Last night, we said goodbye to Inky… a little black cat who’s been part of our family for 14 years.

She’s always been the caregiver  — the one who, when someone was ill, would curl up beside them as though to comfort and heal.  She survived a close call a few years ago when she got into some antifreeze that my brother-in-law spilled in the driveway, but somehow pulled through it. 

Last Summer, she began losing weight at an alarming rate, despite eating and drinking normally.  We took her to the vet, but the blood tests revealed nothing (although it did rule out liver or kidney failure, as well as feline leukemia).  The doc told me in November that it was probably cancer, and I knew then that it was up to me to watch for the signs of pain, to know when it was kinder to just let her go peacefully.

Just before winter break, she was still leaping to the top of the refrigerator, where she basked in the warmth and watched all that went on.  In the days after Christmas, she could no longer jump to the island, but still behaved normally in all other ways.  By Saturday evening, it seemed that she had some neurological problems — she singed her tail on a candle, and appeared to walk with difficulty.  Yesterday, she seemed more frail than ever, and for the first time, did not finish her lunch.

Last night as she lay in front of the woodstove, I knew from her labored breathing that the time had come, and planned to take her to the vet for the last time today.  She didn’t make it through the night.

The Audit

This afternoon, the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office posted the FY07 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for Anderson County.  While I haven’t thoroughly examined all 277 pages, I did skip to the "findings" beginning on p. 274.

Expenditures exceeded Commission’s appropriations in six major categories, and the Trustee’s office invested $1,454,042 in a mutual fund, which is a no-no.  Local governments (and school systems) are rather strictly limited in where they’re allowed to invest the public’s money, and while the mutual fund may have had a much sweeter rate of return, it’s also possible to lose money in a mutual fund (just like anything else in the stock market).

I might be able to write this off as a rookie mistake for a new trustee, but I do have some questions.  I’d like to know through whom the fund purchase was made, and whether the person who made the commission on this transactions (yes, securities dealers work on commission, and a $1.4 mil investment would undoubtedly trigger a good one) has any relationship to the Trustee or any other elected official in Anderson County.

More as I find it.

Merry Christmas!

Santa had a bit of fun at our house last night, yes he did.  The girls decided that a glass of milk and homemade fudge would be better for him than the recommended scotch and popcorn; maybe it was the sugar rush that made him feel impish.

The stockings were stuffed, wrapped packages stacked carefully nearby, but there was a dearth of the usual Christmas morning shrieking when I awakened this morning.  As I wandered out to make coffee, Beta thrust a gift into my hands, not to be deterred: it was a bottle of my favorite Starbucks peppermint syrup for my morning jolt.  The younger two were calm, though.

Between the emptied stockings (chocolates, a new toothbrush, art supplies, etc.) and new pajamas though, was a small unopened box, yet unnoticed on the floor.  They were hoping for a Wii bit bigger box, but there was none to be found.  I inquired about the lonely little box, addressed to Gamma and Delta, so they obliged by opening it.

Inside were some random glass fishbowl rocks (for weight and sound effect), and a note:  "Look where it’s cold, icy like the North Pole."  First they looked outside on the back porch, then the front, before someone thought to check the freezer, where they found a box of soap.  With another note: "Delta’s chore." 

Everyone here knows that Delta’s job is to empty the dishwasher and put the clean dishes away, but there wasn’t anything in the dishwasher but clean dishes.  After a few moments’ frustration, they began putting away the dishes, and found yet another small box with a note: "Where Delta reads, look for the invisible ink."  Now this could have been a real goose chase, since Delta devours books, but they soon figured out that the kitchen computer has a printer above it that’s out of ink… and on that printer was yet another box.  This clue read, "Brush your teeth."

Near their toothbrushes was a slightly larger package, containing a Wii nunchuk, and yet another note: "There’s a basket in the living room with things to be put away."  Upon putting away the the clean folded towels, they discovered Zach and Wiki, followed by squeals and excitement when they looked into the farthest reaches of the linen closet, finding a shiny wrapped package of the proper dimensions to be the coveted, most wished-for item.

Peace on Earth, goodwill to all, and thanks to whatever stroke of luck allowed this to happen.  I hate that there’s another video game in this house with already too many electronic distractions, but there’s nothing like happy children on Christmas night.

The Christmas meme

LissaKay tagged me for the "Christmas Meme" a few days ago, so here goes:

1. Link to the person that tagged you, and post the rules on your blog.
2. Share Christmas facts about yourself.
3. Tag seven random people at the end of your post, and include links to their blogs.
4. Let each person know that they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

Welcome to the Christmas edition of "Getting to Know Your Friends."

1. Wrapping or gift bags?
Wrapping. Even the odd-shaped things, because gift bags don’t stack nicely under the tree.

2. Real or artificial tree?
Real — with a burlap root ball so I can plant it in my yard after Christmas.  The ultimate recycling — I can decorate it outside next year!

3. When do you put up the tree?
Usually after my birthday, so it doesn’t stress the tree (or me) too much.

4. When do you take the tree down?
The week between Christmas and New Year’s, whichever day isn’t raining.

5. Do you like egg nog?
Not especially, but I’ll usually drink a bit for holiday spirit.

6. Favorite gift received as a child?
It’s a tie between a trampoline, and a season’s pass to the 1982 World’s Fair.  I still have the trampoline, and my kids get as much out of it as I did.

7. Do you have a nativity scene?
Several (small ones).

8. Worst Christmas gift you ever received?
Probably math books. That’s the kid equivalent of getting a new mop or vacuum cleaner now.

9. Mail or email Christmas cards?
Sadly, neither.  I never get my act together in time.  

10. Favorite Christmas Movie?
Tough choices; probably the Santa Clause.

11. When do you start shopping for Christmas?
Black Friday.

12. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas?
My mom’s Christmas Morning Casserole!

13. Clear lights or colored on the tree?

14. Favorite Christmas song(s)?
Mannheim Steamroller, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and the Nutcracker Suite.  Traditional: Angels We Have Heard on High.

15. Travel at Christmas or stay home?
We usually travel during Winter Break, but try to be home for Christmas.

16. Can you name all of Santa’s reindeer?
Sure, but I might have to sing it.

17. Angel on the tree top or a star?

18. Open the presents Christmas Eve or Christmas Morning?
Christmas morning, no matter how the kids beg, plead, or insist that everyone else opens them early.

19. Most annoying thing about this time of year?
Crowds, short tempers, bad drivers.  Losing sight of the real meaning of Christmas.

20. Do you decorate your tree in any specific theme or color?
The theme is eclectic — lots of ornaments that the kids have made, or that were given to them, over the years.

21. What do you leave for Santa?
Santa liked scotch & peanuts or popcorn when I was a kid, and he still does.

22. Least favorite holiday song?
"Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer"

23. Favorite ornament?
I don’t really have just one favorite.  I like them all, or I don’t put them on the tree.

24. Family tradition?
Something hidden, or a tiny present in a giant box with something heavy or noisy in it to trick the gift-rattlers.  We once gave my grandmother a big box with an enormous log (tree stump, really) in it, with a picture of her new television taped to the top.  The actual television had already been delivered to her house, unbeknownst to her, with some help from a friendly neighbor.

25. Ever been to Midnight Mass or late-night Christmas Eve services?

I will be passing this "tag" on to the following blogfriends:

AtomicTumor, Daco, Trina, David Bolling, Shane (who’s already finished),

Christmas Eve’s Eve

I’m back now, but here’s a picture of where I was for the last week — what the week before Christmas should look like.

My dear mother-in-law is doing so much better than just a few scant months ago.  Once again, she’s up before the sun, cooking and baking and planning her day.  She’s now willing to get out of the house now and then, going to church on Sunday to show off her bountiful crop of grandchildren, and out to eat a couple of times.

We had to go out to eat a few times to avoid overeating, as her kitchen was filled with innumerable goodies — apple pie, apple cake, custard pie, brownies, fudge, applesauce cookies (can you tell that they had a wonderful apple crop this year?).

The kids had great fun tying an old plastic sled to the back of a three-wheeled ATV, pulling each other through the orchards and trails on the farm.  Oft as not, Dog was chasing behind, burning off some of his energy.

We left about 3 pm yesterday — seven people and Dog, ski gear, apples, and all our winter accoutrements — and drove through a driving rain for fifteen hours.  Coming across Jellico Mountain this morning was rough, with a brutal wind shaking the Suburban all over the road.  Watching the Weather Channel this afternoon though, I’m glad we left when we did, because all that rain is now ice and snow the entire length of Indiana and lower Michigan.

I love snow when I don’t have to drive long distances in it.  Now home, it’s time to finish preparations for the exciting days to come.


Gamma and Delta are enjoying winter break, this shot taken on a recent day trip.


It’s a bit odd having everyone back in the house; with Alpha gone to college most of the time, the dynamics just aren’t the same.  Beta, of course, is now fully accustomed to being the eldest in residence… but she’s usually out of the house more than in, between school activities and working.

Even now with everyone together, the elder two prefer to make their own plans more often than not.  Part of growing up, I suppose.  Even so, it’s nice to have them all together at least for meals.

With each year that goes by, I appreciate more and more that the younger two are exceptionally close, as much like friends as siblings.  We have a great deal of fun with them.


Blackwood Rules

In the long-awaited trial of Stuart v. Layton & the Election Commission, Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood has again ruled to dismiss the plaintiff’s complaint.  Even though acknowledging that hundreds of voters took longer than the state-allowed maximum of ten minutes, as well as acknowledging that the election commission’s procedures for voter identification was inconsistent between various precincts, Blackwood found that since these votes were not cast with fraudulent intent, the election stands.

What Blackwood seemed to be saying is, the laws don’t matter unless they’re intentionally violated with fraudulent intent.  Nevermind that the time limits were intentionally disregarded by election officials — because there was no finding of fraudulent intent, it doesn’t matter.

So if you happen to pick up a speeding ticket in your holiday travels, here’s your defense:  "Your honor, I didn’t mean to violate the law by not observing the posted limit.  I was just trying to reach my destination on time, which I did, so my incidental infraction is justified." 

(If this works for you, be sure and let me know.  I suspect it would only work in Blackwood’s court, and maybe then only if you cite Stuart v. Layton et al.)

The other thing that bothered me is his acceptance of the election commission’s premise that comparing signatures is an acceptable substitute for voter identification.  When you write a check, does the business accept your signature alone as verification that you are who you say you are?  Fat chance.

It’s not over, though; there will be an(other) appeal.  It’s my understanding that the Court of Appeals’ ruling was that the lower court (Blackwood) should rule on the facts — HOW MANY voters took more than 10 minutes (644, after adjusting for those who required assistance and are allowed extra time), and was that number greater than the margin of the election (119)?  The facts were found and proven.

The judge ruled though, on his interpretation, rather than the facts as requested by the Court of Appeals.   The next phase could be interesting.

Smile, yet cringe

HWTFM and I took a short drive out to Jansch Nursery this afternoon — with Dog — to pick out this year’s tree.  We usually get one with a ball so we can plant it in the yard afterward, rather than wasting a perfectly good tree.

In front of a little church along the way, the sign said, "Behold a virgin will bare a child."

Naturally, the image that flashed through my mind was the traditional acting-out of the nativity scene by young children in the church, with perhaps a 7 year-old Mary un-swaddling the baby doll that always gets to play Jesus.

Rising Standards

Tennessee standards in K-12 education are on the rise, with new curriculum standards and new (harder) TCAP tests likely to be phasing in next year. The lower grades are driven in part by the significant gap between proficiency on our state tests, and the state’s proficiency on the NAEP.

Concurrent with those changes, we’re very likely to see higher standards for high school graduation as well, as a result of the Tennessee Diploma Project (view the whole report). In the near term, that will mean requiring four years of high school math (instead of the current three), requiring a half-year of "personal finance," and replacing the Gateway exams (passage of which is required for graduation) with more rigorous end-of-course exams (which will count for a higher percentage of the final grade than the Gateway’s 15%).

Current research shows that college-readiness and workforce-readiness are pretty much the same thing, so the old two-tiered system (college prep vs. vocational) is going away. That doesn’t mean that we’ll do away with courses like welding, manufacturing, networking, etc. — but it means that students in vocational courses will be expected to meet the same level of academic rigor as those headed for college.

Without question, higher standards will benefit our students and our state in the long run. Also without question, they will cause some pain. Some students may not graduate on time, bringing the risk of still more dings to the graduation rate (the calculation of which is, in my opinion, flawed), and unless we lengthen the school day, the additional course requirements will further squeeze an already limited schedule so that students have fewer options than before.

For example, a high school student may not be able to take three or four years of foreign language (two are required) AND four years of marching band (one year of fine arts credit is required). One way around that could be zero-hour courses — optional class offerings at 7 a.m. or 3 p.m., for example; another would be to allow additional high school course credits to be earned in middle school. Already, many students take Algebra I in middle school; if we could expand that to allow foreign language credits to be earned in middle school as well, that would ease the schedule somewhat.

New, higher standards are on the way. And, it’s a good thing — but there’s going to be some discomfort in the process. Schedule-wise, something will have to give.