Blogging 101, Day 5: Love Your Theme

Soooo…I’m looking at my theme and thinking, This page just doesn’t convey the point of my blog.

It’s certainly bright enough—a nice sunny yellow border.  And a lot of people like sunflowers, like the ones I have at the top of my home page.  I had taken that photo a long time ago, when I still lived in the Los Angeles area, where a bunch of in-season sunflowers were relatively inexpensive.  I love sunflowers, and so I scooped up a couple of bunches at Trader Joe’s.  The problem is, sunflowers have so little to do with learning of any kind, much less learning about writing.  Time to reassess the photo.

But there are other things wrong with my page.  First, some of the other blogs linked in the header haven’t been touched in years, especially the ones on Blogger.  The Blogger sites were used to review books written for children and young adults.  When my general ramblings turned into activities for teachers and parents, I thought I would be linking to these blogs to provide helpful ways of using books and stories in working with children with learning difficulties or behavioral issues.  Even though the blog sites were right in front of me, I kept forgetting I had them, kept forgetting to write reviews on children’s and YA books, and—because I was rather inconsistent with my blogging—forgot that those sites even existed.  In fact, I think some of the sites no longer exist.  Clearly, the “blog roll” needs to be updated and changed.

And then there are all the tags and categories added when I had no idea what I was doing, not that I’m much more aware now.  Some of the posts are ancient history.  These need to be re-categorized and archived.  Lots of work to be done there…

However, what about the basic theme?  The sidebar is so cluttered that I know I need to get rid of some of the widgets, or at least move them around.  And the widgets along the bottom…well, they need some work as well.

The real question is whether this theme—Twenty Ten—is the one I should continue to use, or whether I should choose a different theme.  The rest of the items I mentioned above are all easy enough to fix in this theme.  I can change the background color, the photo, rearrange the widgets or remove some, change the blog roll in the area just below the photo… In all, I like the simplicity of this theme. And yet…

Things I can’t do with it are change the font.  This may sound like a minor inconvenience, but to me it is a problem.  I love playing with fonts and using different ones for different purposes.  I don’t like to have one default font that is basically forced on me.  I like the ability to change the font of the title, and to change my headings and subheading the way I want.  I don’t like that I cannot change the color of the font in various places to serve as emphasis or to mark a change in the direction of the content, especially in the headings.  I like colorful delineation, and fonts that are different for the headings.  And I do not like the default (read: only) font used for the title of a piece, and I hate the font used for my blog name.

So why haven’t I changed the theme?  Well, the theme I started out with at the very beginning—or perhaps it was a former version of this theme—was great and gave me a lot more flexibility in the appearance of my site.  This theme, however, provided more flexibility in things like the number of widgets and placement of certain items.  I don’t remember exactly what caused me to change the theme, but I have used it for several years.  I am not sure when I lost the ability to choose different fonts, and suspect that that occurred during a theme “upgrade.”  Whatever the reason(s), this theme either was OK with me at the time, or I didn’t have the necessary information and skills to change to another theme.  To be honest, every time I look for another theme, I feel overwhelmed by the number of possibilities, both free and for purchase.  So I have left the theme, with its many faults, the way it was when I started.  But that is going to change as I begin experimenting with various themes over the next several weeks or months.

My wish list for a theme is

  • Clean and simple appearance
  • Room for lots of widgets
  • Availability of different fonts
  • Ability to change the color of fonts wherever I want
  • A more powerful blog name area
  • A choice of title fonts
  • Ability to easily change the site’s header photos
  • The ability to add photos in the sidebar
  • A better blog roll
  • A place to add blogs I follow that are relevant to my blog’s purpose

The list is getting longer as I type.  I hadn’t realized I wanted so many things, only a few of which are available from this theme.

Time to go “shopping” for a new theme—don’t be surprised when you return to my site sometime in the near future and everything about it has changed except the name of the blog…because I really do like “Write of Passage.”


Posted in About Blogging, About Writing, Blogging U, Blogging101 | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Blogging 101, Day Four: Define Your Audience (and Embed Something of Interest)

The Audience

The purpose of the Day Four assignment is to learn how to embellish your blog with outside resources that are attractive to your ideal audience.  My ideal audience is other people who are trying to learn to write, and enjoy the ups and downs I experience as I continue to hone my skills. Since this blog site is dedicated to learning how to write–and write a good blog or other written work–I checked YouTube for some animated videos that might discuss the writing process in simple to understand terms.  I decided that there probably would be a lot less “learning to write” information on sites like Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, and other sites that would “show” how to write.  The great thing about YouTube is that it actually gives you code to embed in your blog to include this video.

Before I set you loose on the video, it may be that you need to have a Youtube account to view the clip, since it is a secure site.  But how could I think that anyone might still not have one?  Just in case you don’t, go to this link and sign up.  According to McAffee internet security, this is a safe video on a safe site. What more could you ask for?

How I found this video

Since I am always looking for seminars (preferably free) that are both entertaining and educational, I hunted around a bit on YouTube, making several search attempts based on the theme “learning to write right,” until I finally changed the hunt to “writing process” and hit on this video from several years ago that discusses–in just 13 minutes–what you need to do to write–especially to write well.  Although the majors purpose of this video is to teach a bit about writing blogs, it clearly states that it is also a great technique for writing other things, like essays, stories, and almost any writing purpose.  In essence, it is a perfect little gem of a lesson that helps its watchers get started in writing.

For me, having taught students of all ages how to write, I only wish something like this had been available for most of the years when I was actively teaching in one capacity or another.  But a lot of that was back in the Stone Age when the computer was used for purposes other than canned video lessons and online schools.  Even after I began to teach online, videos like this either did not exist, or I would have had to learn to program all over again to either provide a personal video on the topic or ask someone else to video a process for me.  The whole idea of using animation the way Jonathan does it not only would never have occurred to me, but I didn’t have the skills to do what he does.  In fact, I still don’t have skills, but this clip gives me reason to teach myself how to do it and do it as effectively as he does, with or without ongoing illustrations to take us on a wonderful little journey of good blogging and writing techniques.

Let me know what you think. If I would include more videos like this, would you want to come back to my blog to see what new teaching/learning tool I’ve found?  Or is thirteen minutes too long to spend to learn a bit about a technique that could revolutionize your own writing? This may not be the perfect solution for everyone, but you have to admit that Jonathan provides both great information and a lot of entertainment as he takes us through the process of writing with great visuals to help it stick in our minds..

Enjoy! And, in the comments, please let me know what you think!


Posted in About Blogging, About Writing, Blogging U, Blogging101, Learning to Write, The Writing Process, | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Blogging 101, Day 3: Meet the Neighbors

It is far beyond Day 3 of Blogging 101 and I this is my first catch-up post.  The Day Three assignment was to “say hello to the neighbors,” something I have been doing for some time.  Among other things, we were asked to check out the Reader facility, which lists a broad range of broader topics. We were asked to select five topics and select a few blogs to read over and possibly follow, if they are of interest to us.  In addition, we were asked to add a tag of our own to the site to see if it “takes.” (I believe the purpose of the latter is to help narrow the scope of broad topics and to help add “subthemes” to some of the major Reader categories.)  Lastly, we were invited to introduce ourselves to at least five course-mates and read and comment on their sites.

First, the Reader list.  From the list of topics available from the major Reader category selection, I chose the following: Education, Photography, Photos, Writing, and Art.  Why these five? Well, if you’ve been following me for a while, you already know that I am first and foremost an educator.  Most of my adult life has been spent in one form of education or another, including educating and training teachers, school administrators, and educational researchers.  Then there was the education part of the jobs I held as a computer programmer/analyst (high level executives don’t always know how to use the latest tools at their disposal, if they are even away of them).

Photography and Photos were chosen because I have loved the “art” of the camera all my life, but have only recently made an active effort to take up photography as a hobby. As with the category “Art” (largely because I’m taking drawing and painting lessons now), I’m learning a great deal about what it takes to have an artist’s eye—and that I don’t have one, at least not yet (my art instructor insists that I will develop one, even if it takes time. Of course, the fact that I’m already 65 and may not have that many more years left to develop that eye never enters the conversation, for which I am grateful!).

As for “Writing”…a huge portion of the 13 years I spent in teaching K-12 students centered around the two-sided coin of reading and writing.  Teaching students to read and/or improve their reading skills gets them nowhere if they are not learning to write at the same time. Aside from speaking, these are the two greatest tools of communication we have at our disposal.  Yet, even at the college level, far too many students have trouble writing a good sentence, much less writing a solid paragraph—and let’s not talk about what goes into writing a decent and cohesive essay.  I’ve taught bright college students who had no idea that writing needs to be organized: sentences in a paragraph need to be related to a topic, and an essay should contain an introduction, a body that expands on the introduction, and a concluding section that summarizes the essay and, if possible, leads the reader to want to know more.

The problem with the Reader topics, I soon discovered, is the vastness of the subtopics tagged to the categories.  Take, for example, the category “Photography.” The blogs in this category range from newbies like me struggling with taking a solidly acceptable photo, to experienced photojournalists with a blog on WordPress and a huge following. A few sites appear to be dedicated to helping the newbie photographer learn to take a decent and interesting photo, while most of the sites appear to be the online version of a one-person gallery exhibit. Certainly, over the years I’ve learned to discern what I believe is “good” photography, just as I’ve learned to appreciate certain forms of “good” art. That doesn’t mean that other photography blogs are not worth mentioning; it just means that much of the work displayed may not be to my personal taste. Unfortunately, I need to visit a lot of sites before I can figure out which I would like to follow—sites from which I can learn even if the intent of the photo blog is not to teach.

Another example—“Writing”—sends the viewer on a different journey of figuring out if the site is there to help the novice, a blogger’s personal development site for writing that may lead to a short story, novel, or collection of poetry; a mish-mosh of a writer’s experiments with different styles, a shared site by a host of different writers either within a genre or doing their own thing, etc.

To my way of thinking, this may be one of the things WordPress may be trying to address through the Blogging 101 assignment to add one’s own tag to the list.  My tag would be along the lines of “learning to write,” but I am having some trouble getting a tag to stick outside of a personal list.  Clearly, I’m either misunderstanding the directions provided to add a tag (most likely scenario), mistaking the tag for a category (also highly likely), under-qualified in basic online and PC programming to understand the logic (very likely), or something else. Perhaps WordPress has moved ahead without informing its course facilitators of changes to the basic platform on which it is built (unable to judge the likelihood of this conjecture).

For now, I think I will leave the options and opinions until the (probably) third attempt at taking this class. Although not new to blogging, I am new to all the options available within the WordPress platform, and I don’t want to prejudice anyone’s opinion about the Reader and what will be found under its various categorical headings.

On to the “Meet the Neighbors” part of the assignment…

I’ve classified five neighbors by broad category.  In the category of photography, I’ve gotten to know two blog sites: where the theme appears to be architecture—exterior, interior, and everything in between.  The photos are delightful to view and creative in their own right.  The other site is  where one will find everything from the political to the mundane.  I became aware of this site while taking the Photo 101 class here, and have been a follower ever since. (This latter blog is also the only one among the five that I came across before the current Blogging 101 class started.)

Among the writing blogs are , or HarsH ReaLiTy, which is a site containing poetry, one-line observations of self and life, occasional short rants, and just general glimpses into the blogger’s life and state of mind.  Following along on the theme of life lessons is which comprises general views of life and lessons learned from personal and others’ experiences.  The blog at  presents interesting views of life in Japan—activities, festivals, tand he author’s cultural interpretations and personal reactions to these.  It interests me because I know so little about Japan and its culture. The difference between sushi and sashimi just doesn’t go far enough to describe a society.

It’s interesting that what I’ve termed “writing blogs” are not about the actual process of writing, although I know that several exist from past perusal of the Reader. There are a few blogs by professors or teachers on writing style and writing correctly—these are true “how to” blogs rather than what I’m writing, which is a general “here’s what I’m doing and why, and ways to avoid my mistakes” sort of thing. My writing skills in general are strong enough, and should be after strict academic reinforcement for much of my teenage and adult life. However, my skills are far from perfect: no matter what anyone says, you cannot write an acceptable dissertation without having all the t’s crossed and i’s dotted (there are Style Police that carefully read each manuscript submitted and flag everything that deviates from the university style manual).  Unlike many graduate students, I could not afford a professional editor to review my work. Yet, there have been excellent teachers throughout my life, and I would rather look up a rule than chance that I haven’t written a sentence in the prescribed manner—except for ending sentences with a preposition or other annoying irritant to English and/or journalism majors. Fortunately, I don’t get too excited about perfect grammar when what I’m writing just sounds better than either modifying the sentence to conform to the rules, or writing a whole new sentence or two that just doesn’t sound right to me or becomes tedious and falls heavily on the reader’s “ear.”

At this point, I’ve accomplished all of the Day Three assignment requisites except for that infernal tag addition.

On to the Day Four assignment!


Posted in About Blogging, About Writing, Blogging U, Blogging101, Wordpress | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Blogging 101, Day 2: Blog Title and Tagline, and My Own Problems with These

Today’s Blogging 101 assignment involves changing the title of a blog and its tagline.  I’ve thought a lot over the years about changing the title, but never did anything about it. Today, although I successfully managed to change the tagline of the blog–shortening it from what I changed it to when I tried to take this class last month (Learning to Write Right and Writing to Learn today becomes just Learning to Write Right)–I was unable to change the title. Whether it is because this is the original title associated with my site, or whether it’s because I don’t know what I’m doing, a title change just doesn’t seem to want to “take.” But that’s a technical issue that I’ll deal with a bit later with WordPress’ Happiness Team or the course’s facilitators.

Right now, I’d like to talk about what I think would make a better title for this blog site.  It has morphed from general commentary to providing commentary and activities to teachers to–what it is today–a blog on my personal experiences with learning about the writing process and learning to write right.  That’s why the tagline was changed to “Learning to Write Right.” I thought about making that “Learn to Write Right,” but the truth is, I’m learning along with everyone else–not just in this course, but with everyone interested in improving their writing or writing style.

But the title…well, that’s a harder one.  I thought about titles like Write of Passage, or Write Right–titles of books and other writing materials, I’m sure. But, as far as I know, there are no copyrights on titles of reading or blogging materials, so these are possibilities. Other titles I’ve thought about were Rambling On…Writing, Ramblings on WritingWriting Wrongs, or leaving the base title almost intact by making it Eleanore’s Ramblings on Writing.  After all, I’ve had several followers–not many, mind you, but a few–who have been following me for years. Changing the title too much might be confusing.  And then there are the followers I’ve picked up through the blogging and writing classes I’ve taken so far–and so recently! Will my blog posts still reach them?

The reason for my confusion is that I have another site called Li’l Ole Lady Press that has been upgraded and provided with its own URL (, but is connected through the URL for this site (, or–either will get you here). Every time I post from that site, it takes on all the characteristics of the main site–posting to Facebook, Google+, and Twitter, RSS feed, etc.–as though it were part of the same blog stream. So I am not certain what to do about the title for this site’s title…

Better check in with the support personnel I mentioned above and see if it’s worth changing the title at this stage…there may be a part 2 to today’s post.


Posted in About Blogging, About Writing, Blogging U, Blogging101 | Tagged , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Back to Blogging 101, but with Thoughts and Highlights of Assignments–Day 1This i

Warning: I’m not going to bother to edit this Introduce Myself post because it’s almost 4:30 in the morning, and I have a long day ahead of me.  At this point, even if I go through and proof read for the most obvious errors, I’ll forget what I’m doing and just start adding more to the post without taking care of the problems.  Yeah, I’m just made that way.

And now, the response to the first assignment. Hope I covered all the basics requested…

First Assignment: Introduce Myself

Hi, Everyone.  I’m Ellie Miller or, if you prefer, Dr. E. Miller.  I have a doctorate in educational psychology (thus the dr or Dr. as my account name, and I have been in the field of education most of my adult life in one form or another.

My site, Eleanore’s Ramblings ( or has changed over the years from general ramblings about anything when I first started this site to an education site on practical classroom applications–especially with an eye toward special education behavioral information and good practices–to its current version about my experiences as I learn to write.  In case you haven’t noticed, writing isn’t just about putting words to paper; it is also about grammar, spelling, and style.  So my writing on this site is aimed at setting an example for novice bloggers as well as being a fairly regular journal of my writing activities, including errors I’ve made, things that worked as planned or didn’t work at all–not just the success, but the failures as well.  For the next several weeks, it will be a journal of what I’m learning in Blogging 101, what I’m doing to improve my writing and my site as we go along, and a general record of how I am doing.

Although I’ve been blogging for years, I can’t say that I’ve been doing so with any consistency, and I can’t say that I’ve ever gone beyond “novice” level.  I used to program mainframe computers, and have made an attempt to learn to program for PCs and other electronic devices, but the code has progressed far beyond my ability to keep up with it, and I’m finding I need to learn html and CSS if I want to make meaningful and unique changes to my sites.

This is also not my first trip through Blogging 101–I tried to take it last month but found myself pressed for time.  A year ago, I started taking Blogging 201 (after all, I’ve been blogging for years, right?) and dropped out immediately when I realized it was way over my head at the time–not because of the writing, but because of all the information for upgrading your site that went far beyond what will be covered in this class, and I already know what I don’t know about the information covered in Blogging 101–I know nothing.  Because Blogging 201 overlaps with 101 for a week, I decided to wait until later in the year for the 201 class rather than once again trying to do too much in the time I have to devote to online classes.  I made the mistake of taking both Blogging 101 and Photo 101 last month, and feel that I failed myself and any readers or followers I may have picked up because life got in the way.

To me, blogging is not just a public journal (although my Li’l Ole Lady Press can get rather personal).  Blogging should be informative or helpful in some way, and Eleanore’s Ramblings is basically educational in nature, even if it has morphed from its last incarnation as a help site for teachers.  It’s still a help site, in a way.  For the next three weeks, it’s a help site of my own progress (or lack thereof) through this class.  Since blogging has become such an important part of writing–especially for new bloggers or people like me who can write pretty well if I’m writing non-fiction.  But I already know that blogging needs to be entertaining as well as informative, or you’ll lose followers.  In addition, the site needs to match its theme, and it needs to be simple enough for new visitors to handle, while being flexible enough to allow for experimental or permanent changes to format and theme selection.

So I’m going to learn how to make this site better while still staying within the parameters of its current function–sharing what I’m learning and how with others.

Why share the problems as well as the successes?  Because I’m an educator who teaches by example, and I don’t like students to think everything a teacher does is supposed to be perfect the first time around–or even the second time around.

I am looking forward to learning from the assignments; but mostly I am looking forward to learning from the participants’ interpretations of the assignments.  When possible, I’ll share what I consider to be the best examples of a lesson as done by other participants so that  readers can see the variety of interpretations of new stuff to include on the blog page or just great examples of the expectations in the assignments.

The next three weeks are not intended to be a replacement for taking the class.  Rather, it’s meant to “model” what I am going through to learn about WordPress and making my blog more appealing to readers.  If the information is helpful, I would encourage readers to take the class for themselves.

Don’t have a blog site? No problem.  You can start a free blog right here on WordPress when you start a course–or at any time, really.  However, you don’t have to be a WordPress blogger to join the classes.  They are open to anyone with a site anywhere else.

Lots of options; no excuses to put things off.  WordPress makes it easy for you to become the best blogger you never thought you could be.  Lots of classes, lots of daily and weekly ideas and challenges, which are especially helpful when you’re stuck for a topic after the class is over.  And mainly, you can get lots of help, whether from the facilitators, other participants, or the WordPress Happiness Team (technical support on most sites).

I’m wild about WordPress, even though I’m an old lady with decaying brain cells.  The classes and challenges keep me going when I’d prefer to just lie down for a very long nap.  Give me a challenge and the neurons start firing away in creativity and production mode.

If you are a participant, I’m so happy to be here with everyone!  If you are a reader/follower of my blog and are stuck for what to do to draw more attention, all you’ll get from me is a summary of what I’m learning and how I think I’m doing.  You’ll have to take the class itself to get the most out of your learn-to-blog experience.  If you’ve been reluctant to start a blog, or are reluctant to take a class, no one grades your work, and sharing what you’ve done or tried is optional.

So no more excuses.  Start that blog!


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It’s been over a week since I posted anything to this site.  I had finally made the decision to transform this into a “how I’m learning to write” site, and then I got overwhelmed with too many things to finish taking the Blogging 101 class, using this blog as the base for that class.

But guess what!  I’ve got another opportunity to learn more about the finer details of the blog itself as well as prompts for writing.  Although I didn’t always do this last time around, this time I’m going to blog about the learning process itself.  Assuming it is basically the same course as last time, there were plenty of opportunities to share what I learned and how it worked for me, but often I didn’t take advantage of passing that information forward.  If you’re learning to write, blogging is a really good place to get started and get noticed–if you follow the lessons provided and take the time to play with the site itself.  What good is a blog if no one is reading it because it’s boring to look at and has nothing more than the story of learning to write, for example.  So if you’re not taking the course but want to learn about some of the finer points of page management to catch a potential reader’s eye, for instance, just follow my journey here.

On the other hand, you might consider registering for the course yourself.  It can be time-consuming and challenging at times, but it is well worth the effort–the effort I was not able to put in last time.  Here is the link to register for the three-week Blogging 101 Class that runs July 6 through July 24. Register here.  This same link allows you to register for Blogging 201, a two-week advanced class that overlaps this class by a week, and runs from July 20 through July 31.

If you think you can handle it, start with the 101 class and start the 201 for that concurrent week.  Then you’ll have a free week to work just on the 201 class.  Having been involved in two totally different classes simultaneously this last time (Blogging 101 and Photo 101), I wouldn’t recommend doing any two courses together.  But I’m an old lady and slowing down more each day.  I’m sure you’ll do much better.

So next week, on July 6, I simply finish up Photo 101 (and I have some work to catch up on there as well as assignments I want to do over again) and jump right [back] into Blogging 101.  I’m so glad there are all these courses that you can take over and over again, honing skills with each pass, or taking off in new directions that you can share with other participants.  I love these classes because, not only are they free, but they encourage interaction among bloggers and point you to all sorts of interesting places in the WordPress world that are sometimes hard to come upon on your own.

Hoping to see you in Blogging 101!  And in several of the other courses offered at Blogger U!


Posted in About Blogging, About Writing, Blogging U, WordPress Courses | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments


Yesterday morning, I re-read Monday’s post, and found myself very embarrassed by the grammar errors it contained.  Since this site has developed into a “how I am learning to write” blog, I am particularly disappointed in myself.

So here is one point that I feel obliged to make: edit your post before you publish it.  I did not do that yesterday, mostly because I was writing it in a hurry between appointments.  But that is a poor excuse.  I could have saved it as a draft, and returned to it later.  I probably would have added a photo of the Lego set for some visual interest, too.  Instead, I published a post that had grammar errors, wrong words (thank you, auto-complete), and at least two transitional errors that made the story read less smoothly than it should have. Unfortunately, errors are  distracting to many readers, especially those people with degrees in any field of English.  I wasn’t an English major, but from junior high through graduate school, editing was highly stressed in all my classes that required some writing ability.  That means all my classes except for pure math or statistics courses.  So typos and grammar errors are particularly embarrassing to me.  Besides, I often find myself stopped cold while reading novels that were poorly or not professionally edited–including works by some significant authors.  Many of the latter are barely proof-read beyond the first half of the book anyway, which annoys me to no end–especially when the author contradicts him/herself on a descriptive point or previous action by a different character.  My memory may not be what it used to be, so I find myself checking back for the original reference to see if it’s me or the author.

A lot of people can catch their errors by reviewing the “writing page;” but I am not one of them.  I am one of those people who needs to review her work in Preview mode to catch errors.  Why?  I don’t know–probably some disconnect between one or more brain cells.  We all have our little qwerks, and that happens to be one of mine.  The point is that I did not take the time to review, and therefore published a post that could have–no, should have– been better.

So if you are following my blog because it has become a record of how my writing is improving, I apologize for the flaws in Monday’s post.  At some point, I will return to that post and add a section of corrected work.  Not today, though.  It’s another time-restricted day.

With deepest apologies,


Posted in About Writing, improving my writing, writing, Writing process | Tagged , , , , | 14 Comments

Toy Story: Blogging 101 Day 11

Today’s post is based on the Blogging 101, Day 11 assignment, which directs me to got to the front page of WordPress’ Daily Post and work with today’s daily prompt or select another one.  For today, June 22, the prompt is called “Toy Story,” and the topic asks that I describe my favorite toy growing up as a child.  If I didn’t like this prompt, I could choose another, but I decide to stick with this one because I’ve been thinking about what I want to do with two sets of Lego “Heartland High” kits that I purchased several months ago.  The purchase was made with the intent of using the figures in photographs to be used with my professional education web site blog, Teacher Talk.

Why Legos? 1) Because, at the time, I couldn’t draw a stick figure that looked vaguely human–before I decided to take drawing lessons to help make my ideas come to life.  2) I loved the precursors of Legos as a child, and continue to love the toy to this day.  You could say that I’ve been playing with construction-type building blocks for about 60 years now.  But why I fell in love with the toy may have a lot to do with who gave them to me for my fifth birthday–or rather, whose belief it was that I would love the toy.  The toy came from my parents, but it was my father who picked it out and thought I would really love it.  And he was right.  In fact, he was so right that I would make up excuses to stay home to play with them instead of going to school.  Because I loved school, you can imagine how much I enjoyed playing with Lego-like blocks.  To choose anything over school was a big deal.  And, of course, I wasn’t able to get away with the excuse of being sick or having half a day off, or Heaven only knows what other excuses I found to play with these blocks.  And my “Ginny
dolls, who were far too large to fit into the structures I built, but I was a child and children suspend reality in order for their imaginations to “make things  fit.”

That I received building blocks as a five-year-old in 1955 was unusual.  I was supposed to play with the dolls, dressing them, “sewing” clothes for them, etc.  As a little girl, I was not supposed to be interested in “boy toys.”  Back then, all construction toys were aimed at boys, and very few girls were surprised to receive such toys from their parents.  I was never sure why my father thought I would enjoy the construction set, and I never remembered in later years to ask him.  Now he has been gone for more than twenty-five years, and my mother does not even remember that I received the toy at  all.  But I remember, and somehow, when I purchased Legos for my own children and played with them as they built their little fantasy worlds, my father would always come to mind.  Even though he lived more than 100 miles away from my children, he was somehow there in spirit building things along with us.

It may be that my memory of both the Legos and my father prompted this little story because yesterday was Father’s Day, and my father is lying in a grave some 2,000 miles from me.  The Lego sets I purchased continue to remind him of me.

But the purpose for which the Legos were purchased is no longer a priority.  For one thing, I have not been posting to Teacher Talk for a month, and hadn’t done so for quite a long while before then.  For another thing, I simply have not had the energy–or haven’t made the time–to actually construct the school environment with the blocks and people parts and desks, etc.  The there’s the issue of space. We live in a condo  that is large enough for me to have the space to construct, but that has somehow become filled up with other “toys” that I’m playing with as I approach official retirement.  My new toys consist of drawing pads, various pencils, tubes of oil paints and assorted canvases and easels and…basically things that I thought would take up less space than a Lego school.  But that is just another thing I was wrong about.

Now, I am reluctant to give away the Legos sets.  All the memories of my father that I have are locked in a storage unit in Glendale, California, and I now live on a tiny island in the eastern-most part of the Caribbean Sea.  In many ways, the blocks–even though brand new–are the only part of my father that are within my reach.

At some point during the next year or so, I will be traveling to Glendale to reclaim my background–especially those items I have there that were love so much by my father and all the photos that I have of him.  Although the storage unit is crammed with things, I have no interest in anything except the memorabilia associated with my father.  So, until I retrieve those items and sell or donate the rest of the contents of the storage unit, I will hold on to the Lego sets I have, probably figure out a way to make time to assemble the school and its characters, and finally let go of them when I once again am reunited with my father’s photos and books…


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Re-Write of SOC-Part 2: The Final Version

SOC re-write

Introductory comments

It is not that I haven’t been able to re-write the Stream of Consciousness (SOC) into a viable post; it’s that I have not been able to do much of anything during the past week. So today, I am finally making myself re-write the SOC into an edited version of a blog post.  To remind you, the 20-minute SOC can be found here.   The idea of the way I re-wrote this came from blogger Finkelstein and Sons, who I got to know pretty well during Writing 101.  I had posted an assignment dealing with the death of my cat, Shadow, and she remembered it, suggesting that I use that as the basis for the SOC re-write.

One thing I want to point out: the final rendering of the written work does not have to follow the SOC very closely.  The whole idea of an SOC is to set words to paper.  The ideas can be disjointed, or they might actually form an almost complete project.  Upon re-writing, the writer decides (or, rather, the story decides) the final piece.  So if you compare the SOC for this project with this final version, understand that the story took over.

And now for an edited version…

On Veterinary Care of Cats in the Caribbean

That veterinary care for pets differs from country to country—even state to state—is a given that I think we all can understand and accept as fact.  Between differences in standards of care and differences in a local society or culture’s perception of what level of care is appropriate for a pet, it may be difficult for, say, an American moving to a Caribbean island to understand the attitudes, standards, and even availability of medicines that would keep a pet living longer in the States than on the outskirts of a lonely little island.  I learned that lesson personally several months back.

At present, I live on a tiny island on the edge of the Caribbean, bordering on the Atlantic Ocean.  The island is St. Martin, which is divided into two countries: the Dutch-affiliated country of Sint Maarten on the southern part of the island, and La Collectivité de Saint-Martin known locally as the French Side.  The entire island measures about 17 miles across, and the total area—including the vast lagoon on the western side—would fit neatly into Los Angeles County, with room to spare.  Because the primary “business” of the island is tourism, the actual population is approximately 44,000 on the Dutch side and 37,000 on the French side, making the entire island one of the smallest political population divisions I’ve ever lived in as an adult.  Although customs and human medical care differ on both sides, pet veterinary care appears to be similar.  The one thing that is wonderful about this island is that rabies is virtually non-existent, possibly because we also have neither mice nor rats here.  And I have yet to see a bat.  The only rodent I have ever seen here is something that resembles a kangaroo rat which reminds me of a gerbil with kangaroo rear paws.

Not long ago, I learned about island attitude differences between pet cats and dogs.  As almost everywhere in the Americas and Europe, dogs are generally treated with much the same attention as one would give a human being.  Cats, although much loved by the people of the island, receive less care overall, but even in the US they rarely need as much as dogs do.  Cats are inoculated against rabies and, if requested, some of the other more common cat diseases such as feline leukemia virus, but are otherwise seen as independent creatures that have their own means of survival.  When my five-year-old cat, Shadow, came down with pancreatitis during the same period that I was undergoing treatment for massive blood loss from bleeding ulcers, I learned about cat care on the island first hand.  It’s not that she wasn’t treated for her ailment to the best availability of medications here; it was that it was difficult for the people in the veterinary hospital to believe that we were willing to spend a great deal of money to cure her—or at least have her provided with the services needed to keep her reasonably healthy for several more years.

As my own illness continued and led to more problems, so did Shadow’s condition continue to deteriorate.  Between the months of October and January, she spent more time in the clinic than she did at home because she began to develop diabetes, and her pancreas was not responding to antibiotic treatment or even intravenous feeding.  Of course, Shadow was a very independent little cat who kept tearing out the IV line, but the worst part was that we were unable to keep her fed, whether with the low-fat cat food purchased from the vet clinic (wet and dry), or supermarket low-fat equivalnts. She would come home from the clinic, eat in her usual manner for three days (regardless of food type), then stop eating and drinking.  We tried hand-feeding.  We tried to force food and water into her using an eye dropper or medicine syringe, only to find we needed to return her to the vet clinic for help.  This almost always resulted in stays of five to ten days.

Although the diabetes was discovered fairly early, it was not until January that an attempt was made to try different forms of insulin to try to stabilize her.  I understand that the population of the island is small, and that we are so far out in the eastern Caribbean that anything is difficult to procure quickly and easily.  But it seemed to me that there had been plenty of time to express import a variety of insulin preparations—either from the States or from The Netherlands—to find the one that worked.  We were willing to pay for the express shipment and for insulin that might not turn out to be the right kind.  Yet, there was a reluctance to order products that might be “the one.”

Diabetes among cats is not an uncommon condition, I have learned through internet searches by my husband as well as my own searches.  Despite all the cats I’ve had over my 65 years, and all the cats of my friends, however, I had never known a cat to suffer from the disease.  I’ve had many friends whose dogs developed diabetes and whose lives were extended through daily injection of insulin—but never cats.  It wasn’t until I got online that I discovered that diabetes is more prevalent among cats than I had been aware.  American veterinary clinics diagnose and treat cats regularly for the condition, with access to a variety of insulin combinations that can be tested until the correct one is found.  Not here on the island.  Again, I believe that this is, in part, due to population size and partly due to attitudes and customs.  Overall, it does not pay to carry the variety of medical preparations here that would be found in the US with its substantially larger population centers  and ease of product mobility.

If Shadow had been a dog, several varieties of insulin are available locally, and several others are available within a few working days’ delivery.  In fact, some of the canine products had been tried on Shadow until the promised shipment of several types of cat insulin would arrive in the hopes that one would help her.  The dog insulins did not work, the cat insulin orders were never processed by the clinic’s main office on a neighboring island (we learned later), and Shadow was basically doomed.  I will never know if there was a judgement call made on the part of the veterinarian or the main office, or if there was mishandling of the order, or what—the Caribbean has its own way of doing things, and it is difficult to determine what exactly went wrong, if, in fact, anything had “gone wrong.”  Had Shadow been more than 10 years old, I don’t think we would have gone through such drastic measures to save her.  If I had a home in the US to return to at will, I would have taken her home for care.  Many issues were involved, not the least of which were custom and “local” mores.

The one thing I learned from this whole experience was the difference in attitudes about pets here—and perhaps in all of the Caribbean.  To say that dogs are valued far more than cats would be a judgement call that I lack the information to make.  However, the fact that medications are much more readily available and more easily obtained for dogs makes me think that cats are considered the more expendable pets here—or perhaps the more resilient.  That they keep down the lizard population runs in their favor.  Thus, many feral cats are captured, neutered, released, and kept well fed and inoculated against rabies by several volunteer agencies.  Whether the programs exist because of cats’ prowess against the lizard population or for some other reason, I don’t know.  Who volunteers for these groups is also something I don’t know.  For certain, many of the volunteers are Canadians and Americans, and many others are from major South American countries—this I’ve learned mostly from the local newspapers when the groups are featured in public service profiles.  How many people who were born and raised on this or neighboring islands share in this voluntarism, I cannot say, although I know none personally.

This I can say for certain: people here love cats, but their attitudes toward medical care of cats as compared to dogs differs substantially.


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Blogging 101, Day 4: Audience and Focus Post–Stream of Consciousness, Take 2

Today’s assignment for Blogging 101 is particularly appropriate for the regular followers of this blog on how I’m learning to improve my own writing.  The assignment is to determine the audience of the blog (fellow writers-in-training) and to post something that would be appropriate for that audience.  As it happens, my first stream-of-consciousness blog didn’t work out as I had intended.  I promised to post another stream-of-consciousness on pets on the island of St. Martin, and the differences between the way pets are treated here versus the way they are treated in the US.

The way I will proceed is to set a timer for 15 minutes–well, 20 minutes because I need time to sip my coffee and blow my allergy-plagued nose during the interval.  Being both a slow typist and a slow thinker, that should keep this post reasonably short. Since stream-of-consciousness (SOC) writing is basically from mind to keyboard, I don’t expect this to be organized.  I think of SOC as a “think cloud” in semi-essay format.  So today the SOC; tomorrow the edited version that is, hopefully, better organized.  As before, the only thing that I will undoubtedly take time to change is spelling errors, mostly because I try so hard to minimize them, but also because I hate that red wavy line that magically appears under a misspelled word.  Blue grammatical error lines don’t bother me, but the red spelling lines–well, it’s like seeing a line of blood where I didn’t realize I had scratched myself.

One last thing before I start: my computer is giving me trouble with keystrokes, especially on the letter “g”, but on some others as well.  After finishing this post, I am going shopping for a new and faster laptop with functioning keys so I don’t have to strike it five or six times just to get a letter to show up…

Ready? Timer set!

In the US, as in many parts of Western Europe, pets–especially cats and dogs–are treated like family members.  They eat with us, sleep with us, play with us (OK–that’s mostly dogs and kittens), and sometimes are allowed to share our food as a special treat.  Here on the island, that is not the case.  More often than not, instead of the special canned or boxed or bagged food Americans feed their pets per pet food advertisement and veterinarian advice, pets here are either fed table scraps (especially true for dogs) or are expected to hunt and feast on the abundant population of lizards and occasional bird (cats, mostly). Sometimes, the local cats are treated to table scraps, especially if there is no dog in the household, but generally, they are expected to fend for themselves.

Americans tend to visit the vet with their pet for every little ailment.  Here on the island, dogs are treated for serious injury, but cats–well, not so much.  Although islanders claim to love their cats, they also see cats as self-healing–much more so than dogs would be.  A recent incident with a five-year-old cat helped me to see the differences between treatment of cats and dogs by islanders.  My cat, Shadow, had developed pancreatitis, which developed into diabetes, and finally into pancreatic failure.  We spent quite a bit of money trying to save Shadow, and the vet was surprised every time we asked him to order whatever insulin she would need to keep her living a few more years.  The only pet insulin they had on hand was for dogs, because apparently no islanders would treat a cat at such expense.  Part of that may be due to the abundance of cats on the island, despite campaigns to spay or neuter them.  But cats just seem to be thought of as independent and almost disposable pets here.

Dogs, on the other hand, are treated with a little more respect.  Even here, however, dogs who develop serious diseases are generally allowed to die naturally, or are put to sleep under veterinarians’ needles.  A dog suffering from a broken bone or serious gash will be treated with careful attention.  A cat with a serious injury would more than likely have its leg set, or its gash sutured, given a bit of antibiotic, and left to do as it pleases one it gets home.

Although rabies has been thoroughly eliminated from the island, all dogs get rabies shots.  Cats–not so much.  A cat owner has to request the shots rather than have the vet suggest it.  Without rabies on the island, no one worries that cats will contract it–we have no rats or mice here, believe it or not, except for a kangaroo rat that is about the size and shape of a gerbil.  To the best of Animal Control’s knowledge, none of these are prone to rabies, and, as I’ve already said, there is none on the island.  All we have is disease-spreading mosquitoes, so an awful lot of Off! and similar products are sold here.  Spread of disease by fleas is virtually unheard of, despite the frequency of getting bitten by the overpopulation of these little critters.  And ticks are seasonal–but watch out when they are in season, as even the best treatment for cats and dogs doesn’t keep them out of the home.

Here, cats and many dogs are allowed to roam free whenever and wherever they like.  That means that there is a huge possibility that, if walking across a beach or field, one will step in something rather smelly.


Dang! Time’s up.  Given the number of  g’s in this post, I figure I used at least a few minutes going back and fixing them.  The c’s and v’s also gave me some problems, but not enough to get excited about.  I figure there was about 15 minutes of straight writing to this post if I omit the time spent with problem letters.

Even with the long introduction, everything on this page is barely 1000 words so far.  I estimate that during the 20 minutes allotted, I’ve written only about 400 words, give or take 10 or so.  This is the stream of consciousness–some semblance of order, but with obvious need for cutting and pasting.  This is short enough that I should have it fixed and updated by tomorrow or the next day, depending on how my time constraints run.  So, although this is in part for the Blogging 101 class, it is also the promised new SOC that will be cleaned up and presented in the next regular (non-class) “how I am learning to write” post.

Let’s see how I do cleaning this one up.  It’s a reasonably “factual” topic, with not a whole lot to it.  It will need a bit of fleshing out in places, and other parts will need reorganization or outright deletion.

Until next time, then!



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