Sunday, August 24, 2008

Winnebago: Journey Through Hell From Day One. Chapter One

Wick and I have been full-timing for about 8 years now. Full time RVers, to be more precise. We started out with an Alfa Gold, which was about 12 years old when we bought it.

Gold is the top of the line Alfa travel trailer. So even though it was an older model, it had some very nice features, such as a ceramic tile counter top, and a stackable washer and dryer. We sold our house, gave most of our furniture to our kids, and moved in.

Living in a 36 foot travel trailer is a big adjustment, after living in a three-bedroom, two bath brick home. You not only have to love your spouse, you also have to like him. There isn't room to get away and sulk, if you are unhappy about something. RV living requires the ability to talk things out, and come to a compromise quickly.

About 2 years into our RV life, we were staying at an RV park in southeast Oklahoma, which is next door to an RV dealer. One rainy Saturday, for lack of anything better to do, we went over to the RV dealer and walked through some fifth wheels. We were impressed with the improvements in features in the new RVs, compared to our older model.

A salesman began to shadow us, pointing out the various features of each model. We were most impressed with a Big Sky Montana, which had 8 ft. ceilings, lots of windows, even a skylight. The salesman insisted on making us a deal, including a trade-in on our Alfa. We agreed to see what he could come up with. But we went back to our Alfa thinking that there was no way he was going to come up with a suitable deal.

He did. It was such a good deal that we moved from the Alfa into the Big Sky that weekend.

For another couple of years, we were happy with our fifth wheel. Then we started looking at motor homes.

Motor homes are those huge, buslike vehicles you see going down the road, often pulling a "toad"--a towed car for use when the RV is parked. They have all kinds of gadgets and features that are usually unavailable in fifth wheels.

We went to a couple of RV shows. We researched on line. We talked to other RVers. We read RV message boards.

Our conclusion was that if we were going to make such an investment, we wanted to go with the best. Winnebago is the original, and advertises itself as "the industry standard", with the "best customer service record" in the industry.

We planned to pay off the RV before we retired, and then to travel at least half the year every year.

What a huge mistake.

From day one, this Winnebago Journey has been one problem after another.

We ordered the coach from the factory, with all the features exactly as we wanted. We were so excited that we could hardly wait for delivery.

The day we went to pick up the Winnebago Journey, we were told that one of McClain's qualified agents would demonstrate how everything worked.

"Qualified agent." Not hardly. This poor guy was almost as clueless as we were, having to look in the literature for instructions for almost everything we asked about. Wick is pretty good with mechanical issues, so we believed that he would be able to figure things out as we went along.

We immediately planned a trip to San Antonio, from Dallas. On the way, we discovered that one of the tires was out of round.

Someone drove that Winnebago Journey from the factory in Indiana to McClain's RV dealership in Alvarado, TX, with a tire out of round.

We should have seen that as the bad omen it was. It was just the beginning of our problems with McClain's, and Winnebago.

Overwhelmed and Underprepared

School starts officially tomorrow. Students will arrive, expecting teachers prepared to start teaching. Administrators will expect lesson plans, syllabi, course outlines, parent letters.

Friday morning, at approximately 10:03 a.m. Texas time (devastation has a way of making me notice the exact time of tragedies), I was told that I will have not two, but four preparations.

Four different preps.

Oh. my. word.

At that moment, I expected to be hiding in my portable classroom Monday morning, head in hands, wailing.

In my personal life, I am random and abstract. I may spend three days looking for a pet crochet hook, or a particular yarn, only to forget what pattern I was planning to use.

In my professional life, I am concrete. And sequential. I want to be prepared. I want to have everything lined up in rows, alphabetically organized. I have all my handouts stacked in order, square corners, aligned with the edge of the shelf.

None of this is going to happen by Monday morning.

As soon as I got the news about the four different preps, I called my niece Tara(, who is one of the most organized people I know, and began to sob into the telephone. She immediately grasped the enormity of my dilemma, and instructed me to come to her classroom during my lunch time.

It's a twenty minute drive, to another town, in a different school district, but I was desperate.

When I got there, she had all her class files up on her computer, ready to load onto my flash drive. She had made an appointment for me with her department chair, who was ready with another set of files, paper handouts, and books she was so generous to give me.

When I got back to my own school, two of the teachers I have just met this week offered similar kinds of help.

Tara helped me because we are family, and that is what family members do: we help each other in time of need. What a blessing it is to be part of a large, close-knit family.

He department chair and the two teachers at my school helped me out of the goodness of their hearts.

Like Blanche DuBois, I found myself depending on the kindness of strangers.

How grateful is my heart today.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Starting Over Again

Two years ago, Wick and I started teaching in Dallas ISD. He went to the lowest performing middle school in Dallas. I went to the lowest performing high school in Dallas. Not surprisingly, his middle school feeds into my high school.

We thought that we would stay in these jobs until we retire. I was wrong.

In Texas, educational effectiveness is measured by the TAKS test--the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. Wick's school achieved acceptable status this past year.

Unfortunately, after four years of low performance, my school suffered a drastic reconstruction.

All incoming ninth graders will be accepted. All sophomores and juniors will be sent to other high schools. Only seniors with no deficiencies in their graduation plans will be allowed to return and graduate.

Only a handful of teachers were retained. The vast majority, of which I am a member, were released from our contracts two weeks after school was out in June.

We were informed by voice mail of our fate. Suddenly, all the plans for the new school year melted away. We had to look for new jobs. Since we had no idea what was in store, none of us had requested transfers to other schools, so we had missed the prime season for transferring elsewhere.

We were eventually instructed to attend a job fair on July 31st. Just about 2 weeks from the first day to report for the new school year.

The job fair was a nightmare of noise, confusion, heat, and key people out of pocket. I interviewed with a number of schools, but received no firm offers.

Just as I was about to give up and go home, a principal called and asked me to come back to his table. He told me he wanted to offer me a job, but he couldn't unless a teacher was willing to move from English to French. She wasn't willing.

Several days later, he called again, saying he was now able to offer me a position. I had no idea what I would be teaching, but said yes, I wanted to work there.

Whenever Wick and I change jobs, we pray to be placed where God wants us to be. So I believe that this placement is where He means for me to be, at least for now.

I would like to think that I will be able to stay here, since everyone has been so supportive and welcoming. But if God moves me elsewhere, I will be content to go, since I know that He purposes good and not evil, and will use me to bless the children entrusted to my care.

I found out today that instead of teaching Advanced Placement seniors, as was planned at my former school, I will be teaching 3 sections of sophomore classes, and three sections of pre-AP sophomore classes.

I have 6 days in which to plan lessons, type up a syllabus, and prepare for my students.

I am sad for my former students, scattered to other schools.

I am sad for my friends, displaced as I was, some of whom still have not found permanent placement.

Struggling to learn the names, faces, and teaching assignments of a whole new staff.

Searching for one familiar face in a sea of strangers.

Praying for guidance as I meet new students next week.

Rejoicing that God has provided a place for me to use the gifts He has given me.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Dinosaur Tracks

Our daughter Jeana(daystocome) and her family invited us to spend a couple of days with them during their vacation. She said the kids wanted to go to Glen Rose to see the dinosaur tracks.

We had never been there. Neither of us is fond of being hot, and we had visions of clambering around a bunch of rocks, probably on a small mountain, in the broiling sun of August in Texas. But we do love our grandbabies, and we love being with daughter and son-in-law, so we said, sure, of course, count us in.

What we didn't say to them, but did say to each other, was, "Well, we can't all go in one vehicle so we will take our car, and if it is just too unbearable hot, we'll be able to leave them there and go find some place air conditioned until they are done looking at dinosaur tracks."

Having paid the day use fee (very reasonably priced at $5 per adult, $3 for seniors), our first stop seemed to confirm my worst fears. We walked to a pile of rocks that gradually sloped down to a river bed, and a sign with a piece of pipe to look through pointed the way to the first set of tracks.

I slathered on my sunscreen, adjusted my sun visor, put on my sunglasses, and trecked over to the sign amid the rocks. I dutifully looked through the little piece of pipe to zero in on where the tracks were, exclaimed at how many and what varied sizes and types, and politely declined an invitation to get up close and personal by hiking down the rocks in the sun.

I sat on a big rock, chatted with other visitors to the spot, some of whom were from England and Australia, and waited for my darlings to return.

We visited another spot, almost interchangeable with the first, as far as I could tell. Again, I perched on a big rock, swigged water from my bottle, and visited with passing visitors until my family came back.

My dear son-in-law said he thought we should go back to the first place, set up our day camp, and go swimming.

Swimming? My ears perked up a bit, since cold water sounded like a great idea on that hot day.

We gathered up the ground blanket, coolers, food, chairs, and assorted paraphernalia for enjoying a day on the river, and hiked down the rocks. Scott found a level spot in the shade, and we unloaded our burdens.

When I saw where we had to hike down to get to the river, I almost backed out. Having suffered a concussion not so long ago, I was reluctant to take a chance on falling and banging my head again. But Wick and Scott went before and after me, guiding me to the easiest path, and steadying me on the steepest parts.

What awaited us was a sort of paradise. Plenty of shade, water shallow enough to wade in, dropping down to chest-deep at a rocky dam, with places to sit on the rocks, get into deeper water, or wade upstream to search for more dinosaur tracks.

Scott brought us watermelon, bottled water, and even our lunch sandwiches, so I wouldn't have to struggle back up the rocks. As the shade moved over the water, he brought down canvas chairs so we could sit in knee-deep water, in the shade of the overhanging trees, and watch the grandbabies swarming up and down the river, finding tracks, dragonflies, minnows, small perch that nibbled on bare toes, and a variety of flora and fauna.

Occasionally a cool burst of water flowed through the natural limestone dam, keeping us quite cool, despite the sun flashing on the slow-moving water.

Other groups came and went, lingering briefly, then moving on to other overlooks, constantly looking for bigger and better .... bigger and better what? I wondered as I lazily swirled the water with my feet, watching the little ones digging in the sand, or befriending other children who came to the river to dig in the sand and paddle in the water.

After all my apprehensions, it was one of the most perfect days of my life, surrounded by loved ones, enjoying the bounty of nature and the beauty of God's creation.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Frankie's Summer Adventure: The trilogy, part III

When I told our niece that we were planning to take Frankie to the vet to have his teeth cleaned, she asked if we would also take her kitten to be "fixed". I said sure, put him in the travel crate, and we'll be happy to take him along.
When we got to the vet, Frankie started his quivery routine--shaking, making little soft whimpering sounds deep in his throat, and poking me in the face with his wet nose. I told Wick to fill out the paperwork for the kitten and I would do it for Frankie.

The little girl behind the desk asked, What is the kitten's name?

Wick said, Beats the heck out of me. Call him Squirt.

She giggled, and then asked, boy or girl?

He said, Beats the heck out of me.

She giggled again, in disbelief. You don't know if it's a boy or a girl?

He said, Nope--it's not my cat.

Girl: What's he here for?

Wick: To be fixed.

Girl: Hmmm....well, okay, then I'll just put "Castorated", since that will work for a boy or a girl.

Me: (thinking) okay, first, that is not how castrated is pronounced or spelled, and second, the kitten can't be "castorated" if he is a she....but whatever.

The vet tech took Frankie and the kitten back to the other room, and we left.

When we came back in the afternoon, the vet tech brought out the kitten, and the conversation resumed.
Girl: Hey y'all, he's a she, so we "spaded" him.

Wick: Well, that's good that you didn't "castorate" her.

Vet tech: Who are you here for?

Me: Frankie the pom.

Vet tech: okay, I know where he is, I'll go get him.

He left. And he was gone....and gone....and gone.... and when he came back, he said: He won't let me take him out of the crate.

Wick: I'll get him.
He left. And he was gone...and gone...and gone...and finally the vet tech came back and said: he won't let him take him out of the crate either.

So I said: Oh, please--I'll go get him myself.

When I got there, the vet (a man) and the vet tech (also a man) and Wick (most definitely a man) were standing in front of the crate, and there was Frankie, backed up in the furtherest corner of the crate, doing a credible imitation of Cujo the rabid dog. Teeth bared, full throated growls, darting forward to snap at the three men, then retreating into the corner again.

The vet said: After all we have put him through today, getting his shots, being sedated, getting his teeth cleaned, I think he has had it with men.

I stepped forward, and in my lowest, sweetest, poor-baby voice, said: What's the matter, Frankie?

He lept into my arms, practically sobbing with relief. The vet tech said: He snapped at me.

Wick said: What's worse, he snapped at me!

I had Frankie cradled on my shoulder, like the fur baby he is, when Wick tried again to pet him--and he snapped at him again.

Once we paid all the fees, bundled up the kitten in her crate, and got back into the truck, Frankie wobbled over to Wick, sniffed deeply a couple of times, then licked his hand, as if to apologize for snapping at him.

Then he collapsed in my lap, fell fast asleep, and began to snore. Poor little guy, he had had a rough day, and the sedative still had not worn off.

We are back home now, after being on the road for the biggest part of the past three weeks, and Frankie has finally begun to relax. But he is still on his guard, afraid that his summer adventures are not yet behind him.

He is going to go berserk when we start moving back into the RV for the school year that begins next Monday.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Frankie's Summer Adventure: The trilogy, part II

After we picked Frankie up at Jamie's, we went to visit our niece and her family. We went out to eat, and took Frankie with us. Of course, he can't go into the restaurant, but he would rather go, and stay in the truck, than be left behind. And since we have a diesel truck, we can leave the engine running, and the air conditioner on, so Frankie doesn't get too hot. (our nephew was aghast--burning diesel at $4.65 a gallon, to air condition a dog!)

When we came back to the truck, Frankie was standing on his hind legs in the back seat, anxiously watching for us. When I opened the back door, he lept out and landed spread eagled on the pavement.

Splat! I heard him hit the pavement, heard the sharp click as his chin hit the ground and his teeth snapped together. All four legs were pointing in different directions. He didn't get up.

I snatched him up in my arms, and my niece, who just finished nursing school, began to feel for broken bones. She said, "I don't feel anything out of place," but Frankie was inert in my arms. My heart sank.

Wick said, "He's breathing. Put him down and see what he does."

He sort of scrambled up onto his feet, staggering around, and bent almost double, nose toward his flank. He tried to hike his leg, and fell over. We couldn't help but laugh as he wobbled around like a drunkard.

I snatched him up again, and again, the brand-new nurse felt for broken bones, and checked his eyes, ears, and mouth for blood. She said again, "Everything seems to be okay. Put him down."

He continued to stagger around, but he wasn't whining or panting excessively, so we put him back into the truck and went to niece's house.

When we got there, he attempted to jump out of the back seat again, but Wick was too fast for him, and caught him on the fly. When he put him down on the ground, I was relieved to see that he not only was walking straight, but had enough spunk to bark at Jen's Labrador retriever, Sophie, as he pranced up the walk to the door.

Was he concussed? Did he get the wind knocked out of him? Probably both. Even though he is a tiny fellow, even somewhat dainty in appearance, he's pretty tough. And he still thinks he is big enough to take on a Lab, even after being down for the count only moments before.

Little did he know what the next day would bring.

to be continued....

Frankie's Summer Adventures: The Trilogy, part I

Frankie, our pomeranian, has had an eventful summer. Unfortunately, he has not enjoyed all of it.

Coming to the lake, he enjoyed. He loves all the rich smells of a lakeside neighborhood: other dogs, cats, racoons, even snakes slithering through the grass. He loves to trot around at our heels as we go up and down the stairs while working on the cabin, up and down the hill to the boat dock, across the street to visit neighbors.

He loves going out in the boat, standing erect at the bow, sniffing the breeze, barking at passing boats and at people waving from their boat houses and docks.

He does not love being left behind when we go on a cruise.

My dear daughter-in-law Jamie volunteered to keep him during that week. She met me at a town half way between our homes. We had a quick lunch, and then Frankie got a treat, a drink of water, a chance to sniff the bushes near the parking lot, and then it was time to say goodbye.

I carried him to Jamie's car, put him on the back seat, petted him, and said to be good. Right up until I shut the door, he was still wagging his tail. But when I shut the door and started to walk away, he realized what was happening.

Y'all, it was like saying goodbye to a child. He put his paws on the window, pressed his nose to the glass, and seemed to be saying Don't leave me!

In addition to having to stay at Jamie's for a week, he had to share house room with Jamie's pug Gracie, and Boston terrier Oreo, an indignity which added insult to injured feelings. Frankie does not approve of people who keep dogs in the house.

Besides having to share attention and petting, he also had to -- gasp -- eat from the same bowl as Gracie and Oreo.

Frankie does not play well with others.

When we came to pick him up after the cruise, however, he seemed to be healthy, and delighted to see us. Luckily, he had no idea what was in store for him the next day.

to be continued...

Fourth of July 2008

Since we have had our lake place, our kids and grandkids have come to the lake for the 4th. This year, since we have a functional bathroom and kitchen, we extended the invitation to other family and friends.
What an enthusiastic response we got! On the Tuesday before the 4th, Wick's brother and his wife arrived, bringing their fifth wheel travel trailer, parking it in the yard.

On the Wednesday before the 4th, son Scott and his family arrived.

Then our niece and her family, with their Airstream trailer.

And our daughter and her family.

And son Ron and his wife.

And nephew Chip with his family.

And cousins Kim and Susan and Danny.

Thirty people. Wow. We had such a great time.

And the biggest surprise was that all the guys brought their tools, and set to work, finishing the back deck, putting up the joists for the deck roof, insulating the loft, putting up paneling, and they even cleaned up the mess when they were done.

In addition to all that work, we found time for swimming, fishing, going out in the boat, cooking, and best of all, eating.

Brisket. Ham. Roast chicken. Fresh squash, tomatoes, banana peppers, onions, and watermelon. Chips and dips, cookies, and home made cakes to celebrate a July birthday.

Fireworks on the boat dock, soaring into the night sky, bursting into sprays of bright colors, reflected like jewels in the dark water of the lake.

Rocking my sixteen year old granddaughter in my lap when she got her feelings hurt. Singing, telling family stories, remembering those who have passed from this world but not from our memories. Offering thanks before meals, holding hands in a circle.

Five days with family and friends. Counting our blessings. How much better could life get?