Monday, November 15, 2010

Lost Innocence

Mr. Bernard was the only male teacher at the small elementary school I attended. When we were told we'd be in his class back in 1963, there was a lot of giggling among the girls. A man for a teacher? And he was cute! It was almost unheard of then, but there he was standing before us ready to teach on the first day of school. He was just out of college, and we were his first students.

What my memories do hold is that Mr. Bernard followed my class right through high school. After our fifth grade year with him, he was transferred to the junior high that I eventually attended. There he taught science. Then he was transferred a few years later to our high school where he taught a variety of earth science and physics courses; he also coached track and cross-country.

I never had him as a teacher again after fifth grade, but he looked after his first class of students like a parent. He knew the names of our brothers and sisters. He knew our parents. It was like family. He even attended our graduation with his wife and new baby. I received a graduation card from him where he inserted a candid shot of me from fifth grade. When I ran into others who were in this fifth grade class, they also said they received graduation cards. Each had a black and white snapshot Mr. Bernard had saved. In those days, the world was smaller and less transient, so he was able to follow his first students through that point just as we were able to watch his life unfold.

What I remember most about fifth grade with Mr. Bernard is when John Kennedy was shot. My own children are now linked to the world with TVs and computers in their classrooms. If something happens, it is almost immediately known and they watch it on the classroom TV. In 1963, there was none of this. I think there was one television in the entire school building. The world was very different.

The memory is so vivid. I was sitting in the second row, second seat from the window. I was wearing a plaid dress with a white collar. I was wearing ankle socks. I hated that my mother made me wear ankle socks. I liked boys and boys made fun of girls who still wore ankle socks. Mr. Bernard was teasing my best friend about the pronunciation of the world "acre." She had read it aloud as "ac-ree." Apparently, she had never seen this word in print before, and she just couldn't see the word in her mind. We were all having fun. We were all learning. Perhaps I was thinking I might have pronounced it "ac-ree," too. My friend wasn't embarrassed; there was gentle teasing with Mr. Bernard in charge. And the realization that the word she'd struggling over was "acre" made my friend laugh at herself, without contempt, without feeling bad.

And then the principal was standing at the classroom door. He motioned for Mr. Bernard to come to him. They spoke for a few minutes; Mr. Bernard's back was to us. It was like one of those movies where frames are shown, slow motion, one still at a time. Mr. Bernard finally turned to us, and he was crying. Our teacher was crying. Then he told us about John Kennedy and the motorcade. He told us all he knew.

The rest is a blur. We were so young. The world back then for fifth graders was one filled with innocence. We silently followed Mr. Bernard to the auditorium where the larger room filled with each classroom of children, and we all watched and listened to the reports on a small black and white TV that was set in the middle of the stage.

John Kennedy was shot.

John Kennedy was shot.

Then, John Kennedy was dead.

We were dismissed early. My family's black and white portable TV stayed on all weekend. My mother cried a lot that weekend. I watched and cried as well, but I'm not sure ultimately what the pain was about. I can theorize today about the loss of innocence or the sadness in the world, but it was so long ago.

I was helping my mother dust our apartment when Jack Ruby became visible from the crush of people and shot Oswald. My memories are in slow motion and more of colors and sounds than of events. I remember our TV was light tan and on a gold rolling cart. I was wearing green pedal pushers. It's funny how I can see these details. My mother's hair was jet black at the time. Even though my mother usually had the record player on with her 33's playing Frank Sinatra or Tony Bennett, during that weekend, the sound recorded in my mind is that of news broadcasters' voices; Walter Cronkite for some reason is the voice I hear, but it could have been anyone.

Many times in my adult life, the words, "Where were you when Kennedy was shot?" have been part of our conversation. Everyone who was alive then has an answer and can tell a story. Perhaps every generation has an event like this. Maybe it was my first time being aware that I was connected to the world, and the world wasn't a perfect place made up of perfect people, and the ultimate sadness that thoughts like this bring.

I remember dating a man for awhile before I met my husband. He was taking me to meet his older sister and her husband.

"Where were you when Kennedy was shot?" someone asked.

"I was at NYU."

"I was driving to work, listening to the radio."

"I was watching TV."

"I was in Mr. Bernard's fifth grade class. It was the first time I saw a man cry."


©1999 Felice Prager. All Rights Reserved.


Previously published by the Front Porch and

Monday, November 1, 2010

My Ever Steepening Learning Curve

It was a glorious day when I saved Hyrule. For weeks, I guided Link through mazes, caves, tunnels, and dungeons into the depths of the Underworld. As I approached the conclusion of the final maze and was ready to come head to head with the most evil of the continuous legion of thugs, I put the video game on pause, gathered my easily impressed elementary-school-aged children to observe the Master, and rescued Princess Zelda from the evil Ganondorf. My children rejoiced with me. We danced around the TV and harmonized along with the Link Theme Song. Then, on the screen before us, a miracle occurred! We realized the game was only half over – the game included a Second Quest!

As my children grew, the complexity of their games increased. The Nintendo game creators, in what I translate as a focused attempt to make me feel incompetent and to allow my offspring to gain the upper hand in all things electronic and technical, added additional buttons to the game controls. When the games went 3D, I retired – undefeated. I told my children that I no longer had the time to waste on games, but the truth was, the games became too difficult for me.

I know I am not alone.

Recently, we renewed our contract with our cell phone service provider, and along with the new contract, we were able to upgrade our phones. My husband, as the primary member on the account, received a free new phone. My new phone, which I did not need because my old phone was working perfectly, was semi-free because I chose the red phone to match my Jeep. The red phone cost an extra $69 above the free phone offer. The new leather case and car charger (since cell phone manufacturers never make the old cases and chargers compatible with the new ones) were a discounted additional $29. I also splurged on a memory card since my son told me the phone I chose had limited storage capacity. I assume I will now be able to store my winter wardrobe on my new phone. To justify the expense, I told my family that the new phone and its accessories could qualify as a Mother's Day gift.

Unfortunately, the original phone I ordered online was defective, and despite having my "network" following me around town, I had to stop working, leave my office, and go to the cell phone store for a new (refurbished) replacement. While waiting for my salesperson to program my replacement phone and transfer my personal data from the defective phone to the hopefully not-defective one, I watched another customer enter the store and hand his defective phone to another salesperson.

"Have you ever seen anything like this on a screen before?" the flustered man asked the clerk indicating what my poor nosey eyesight saw as a giant frown face on his screen.

"Nope," the salesman responded, "can't say I have."

"Well, can you make it go away?" he asked.

His salesman disappeared into the same magic back room where my salesman had gone earlier.

Then, the man looked at me and said, "I hate admitting defeat to technology – especially when it costs me more than my first car."

I nodded in agreement and said, "I admitted defeat when I saw how thick the bilingual instruction manual was."

"My kid could probably fix it," he said, "but he’s too busy partying at college."
We went back to minding our own business after that; however, that short impersonal conversation led me to an epiphany.

In the world of technology, I have become an antique. I have value, but it is in the eye of the beholder.

Lately, I am finding more things that are too complicated for me to deal with…or maybe, I am gadget-overloaded. Maybe I am tired of reading manuals that start with, "Never place your phone in a microwave oven as it will cause the battery to explode" and "Do not handle the phone with wet hands while it is being charged. It may cause an electric shock or seriously damage your phone."
Maybe it is time to shut off my power.

Twenty-five years ago, when the school where I worked installed its first computers, I bravely (before the publication of DOS for Dummies) learned how to "C colon backslash" on a screen without windows. Over time, I learned how to build websites, set up spreadsheets, compose professional documents, and competently add things to motherboards. With each new electronic accessory, I gained a new set of skills.

I have never had problem with cell phones, DVD players, coffeepots, all-in-one remote controls, electric pencil sharpeners, teller machines, faxes, printers, scanners, air purifiers, or other electronic devices with which I interact daily until recently.

When I was in high school, my dad, who used a manual one-armed-bandit adding machine with a coil of paper tape for his business calculations, brought home the first handheld calculator I had ever seen. My dad liked gadgets, too. I still own that Texas Instrument calculator although it has not worked for years. I cannot bring myself to discard something that cost my dad over one-hundred pre-inflation dollars.

In the early 1980s, I remember being wowed by a Brother portable electric typewriter that I could fit in my attaché case. I bought it without comparison shopping or knowing what the future would bring. I thought it would help me produce dittoes for my classes. (Raise your hand if you remember dittoes. Raise both hands if you ever cranked a non-electric ditto machine.) A few years ago, I sold the useless typewriter that only printed on unreadable thermal paper that is no longer made. I sold it on EBAY for several hundred dollars less than its original cost.

I have outlived dozens of personal computers, fax machines, printers, scanners, stereos, VCRs, game consoles, and other electronic devices. I remember my first PC cost more than I paid the obstetrician when our first son was born. I tried to donate it since I never got around to turning it into a planter, but no one wanted it. With each upgrade, I learned more and realized how technically savvy I could be.

But Sunday night, when both TVs in our house stopped working at the same exact time, I was stumped. Between my brand new cell phone not keeping a charge and randomly speaking to me when it had not been spoken to and the two dead TVs, I was ready to apply my senior citizen discount to the nearest home for over-the-hill computer nerds.

First, I had to wait three days for a repairman. This was during the NBA finals.

For three days, I tried rebooting the system at every opportunity. For three days, I searched the internet for reasons why two TVs would lose their cable signal simultaneously but still be able to show movies from a DVD player. For three days, we missed exciting basketball, fair and balanced news, and reruns of Frasier, Sex in the City, and Two and a Half Men.

It took Jason, the twenty-something-year-old cable guy, exactly five minutes to find the problem.
Apparently, I knocked the plug out of the outlet that connects our cable boxes to the cable signal when I was getting a piece of luggage from a rarely entered closet.

Now, I am scared. My husband, who usually compares me to my mother, despite my best efforts at concealing all hints of wrinkles, didn't make fun of me when I told him how I "broke" the cable. He was also exceedingly kind when I told him I was unable to open the bucket of chlorine tabs because I couldn't figure out exactly how to use the screwdriver and hammer to remove the tamper-proof plastic tab. But then again, he also depends on me to defrag his hard drive, turn his cell phone to vibrate at the movies, and program the clock on the coffee maker.

- - -

© 2008 by Felice Prager. All Rights Reserved.

(Originally Published by The Irascible Professor - September 9, 2008)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Borderline Stupidity

I am reposting this essay from 2005 because it is still relevant. (As a preface, please note that this was announced in July 2007: "In a joint release, Morgan Quitno Press announced that it has been acquired by CQ Press, a division of Congressional Quarterly of Washington, DC. Scott and Kathleen Morgan, editors of Morgan Quitno’s annual state and city statistical reference books and owners of the privately-held company, will continue to edit the publications in collaboration with CQ Press.")

Borderline Stupidity

by Felice Prager

When we were relocating from New Jersey to Arizona almost two decades ago, our relatives told us all the reasons why moving was not a smart decision.

"No doctors," they said.

"Mayo Clinic," I replied.

"Too dry," they said.

"Seven days of rain a year," I said to my cousin whose hair was beginning to frizz on that 98 degree, 98 percent humidity day so long ago.

"Too hot," they said.

"Air conditioning," I replied.

"Too hot," they said again, as if saying it twice would make it a better reason.

"Swimming pools and a year-round tan," I replied.

"Horrible schools," they said, knowing where my Achilles heel was hidden.

"I taught in a horrible school," I replied, "Don't you remember when I ordered $5000 worth of new books and supplies for the next year, and all I got was a yard stick and a package of ditto masters?"

Despite the best attempts of our relatives at dissuasion, we moved.

For the most part, my sons, who received their entire K-12 education in Arizona, had good teachers; and, the curriculum usually was rigorous and challenging. For example, the other night I asked my son why he was doing Greek homework since he is not taking a foreign language this year. His reply: "Mom, it's calculus." If standardized testing is a barometer, my children have done exceptionally well on these national tests, consistently scoring above the 90th percentile. In fact, my younger son is presently deciding which college to attend next year, and part of his decision is being based on the size of the academic scholarships he has been offered from excellent universities in and out of Arizona. From my perspective, Arizona's schools and teachers are not very different from those with whom I worked elsewhere. Good genes and good parenting aside, my sons have thrived in the Arizona school system.

With that in mind, in a recent and highly publicized survey, Morgan Quitno Press named Vermont the "Smartest State" in its Education State Rankings for 2005-2006. Vermont was followed by Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Maine, all in the Northeast. The losers ("losers" is the word used by CNN) were Arizona -- in last place, Mississippi, New Mexico, Nevada, and California. Four of these five are in the Southwest [1].

I am acutely aware that Arizona has its share of problems, but I visited the Morgan Quitno Press web site because, as a person who never takes surveys at their face value, I needed to see just how their rankings were determined. If someone is going to call my state the dumbest, I wanted to know how this was decided.

A few years ago when Florida was listed by Morgan Quitno Press in forty-seventh place, columnist/humorist Dave Barry wanted to know why Florida was not number 50. This was in the days of chads and Al Gore, and as a Florida resident, with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek, Mr. Barry had the same questions as I did.

For the record, I was not requesting a change in ranking; I simply wanted to know how it was determined that Arizona was the dumbest state in the USA.

Morgan Quitno Press - "Reliable Rankings for 16 Years."

As explanation, Morgan Quitno Press of Lawrence, Kansas (not far, I am told, from where Dorothy and Toto lifted off to find the ruby slippers and flying monkeys) produces annual announcements that designate our country's:

Safest City - Newton, Massachusetts

Most Dangerous City - Camden, New Jersey

Smartest State - Massachusetts in 2004 (before Vermont got the honors this year)

Most Improved State - New Hampshire

Most Livable State - New Hampshire (before the floods, I assume)

Healthiest State - Vermont

Safest State - North Dakota

Most Dangerous State – Nevada (home of the one-armed bandito!)

Each designation was based on data collected by Morgan Quitno Press and released in print or on CD "for as little as $3.49 each." For their "Smartest State" designation, they calculated winners and losers using a complicated procedure based on 21 factors that were divided into positive and negative characteristics. "Rates for each of the 21 factors were processed through a formula that measures how a state compares to the national average for a given category. The positive and negative nature of each factor was taken into account as part of the formula. Once these computations were made, the factors then were assigned equal weights. These weighted scores then were added together to determine a state's final score." Among the characteristics weighed were:

Graduation rates

Dropout rates

Student-teacher ratio

Class size

Teacher salary

Expenditures for instruction

Student achievement


Positive outcomes

Strong student-teacher relationships

School district efficiency [2]

The credentials of the founders of Morgan Quitno Press are impressive. They have "years of experience in and out of government and in working with data." Scott Morgan, as an example, was Staff Counsel on a U.S. Senate Judiciary subcommittee in the 1980's, served as Chief Counsel to Senator Dole's 1988 presidential campaign, served as Chief Counsel to the Kansas Governor, and, after one year in private law practice in Kansas City, has devoted all of his time to Morgan Quitno Press [3].

I am not looking to make waves, at least not the tsunami type. However, I do have some objections with their findings. Using numbers and statistics is a starting place, but ignoring key variables/handicaps leads to erroneous conclusions. Arizona still may be the dumbest state, but by omitting the following information, these rankings hold no weight, despite what they say on the news: "ARIZONA IS THE DUMBEST STATE – DETAILS AT 6 PM – HECK, THEY DON'T EVEN SET BACK THEIR CLOCKS!"

Here are some facts that Morgan Quitno Press did not include in their analysis:

FACT #1: In 1982, the Supreme Court ruled (Plyler v. Doe) that states and school districts cannot deny free public education to illegal alien children residing in the United States [4].

The international border between Mexico and the United States extends about 2000 miles along the states of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. There are approximately 350 million legal border crossings every year [5]; and, it is estimated that illegal crossings account for over one million people a year. (As a point of reference, the length of this border is approximately the same distance as it is from Phoenix, Arizona (#50) to Montpelier, Vermont (#1).) Currently, the government has not yet estimated the costs of educating the children of recent legal and illegal immigrants, but it is generally accepted that the immigrant population is growing, and that the undocumented component is significant. This directly affects local and state education budgets, which have not been able to keep up with increases in enrollment and classroom overcrowding caused by this inflow.

According to the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR): "The total K-12 school expenditure for illegal immigrants costs the states nearly $12 billion annually, and when the children born here to illegal aliens are added, the costs more than double to $28.6 billion. This enormous expenditure of the taxpayers' contributions does not represent the total costs. Special program for non-English speakers are an additional fiscal burden as well as a potential hindrance to the overall learning environment. A recent study found that dual language programs represent an additional expense of $290 to $879 per pupil depending on the size of the class. In addition, because these children of illegal aliens come from families that are most often living in poverty, there is also a major expenditure for them on supplemental feeding programs in the schools [6]."

According to Don Collins, a member of FAIR's board of directors, "The average native-born-headed household in Arizona now bears more than $700 a year in additional costs to provide education to illegal aliens and their children, an estimated $810 million a year." This number does not include the burden of paying for health care for illegal immigrants that threatens to bankrupt many Arizona hospitals and clinics. Incarcerating illegal aliens costs Arizona taxpayers an additional $80 million annually [7]."

Other Southwestern states have similar burdens. In fact, Arizona isn't even at the top of the list for estimated costs of educating illegal alien students and U.S.-born children of illegal aliens - California leads at 15%, and Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, and Texas follow with 10% - but it is an expensive handicap, nonetheless, and it affects school budgets, school spending, and overall outcomes.

FACT #2: The National Center for Education Statistics reported that nationally, Native American students have a dropout rate of 35.5%. This is about twice the national average and the highest dropout rate of any United States ethnic or racial group. Among minority populations in Arizona, Native American students have the highest dropout rates [8].

According to the United States Census Bureau, Vermont has a population of 621,394 of which 24.2% are under 18 years old. That is approximately 150,000. Of that, 0.4% are American Indian or Alaskan Native. TRANSLATION: There are approximately 600 American Indians or Alaskan Native under the age of 18 in Vermont.

Arizona has a population of 5,743,834 (more than nine times that of Vermont) with 26.6% under the age of 18. That is approximately 1.5 million people. Of that, 5% are either American Indian or Alaskan Native. TRANSLATION: There are approximately 75,000 American Indians or Alaskan Natives under the age of 18 in Arizona.
In my neck of the reservation, using this category to rate the quality of education in a state that has 600 students in a cultural group known for its high dropout rate to one with 75,000 in this same cultural group is like comparing dollars to wampum.

In addressing the problem of dropout rates, it is inevitable that Arizona's expenditures will outweigh that of Vermont. When the money for this comes from education coffers, something somewhere else will be cut; it is an expensive handicap and one that affects the total budget significantly.

FACT #3: According to the United States Census Bureau, 25.9% of Arizona's population speak a language other than English in the home, whereas Vermont has 5.9% of its population speaking a language other than English at home. In Arizona, there are 75%more of a much larger population base not speaking English in their homes. Being from the smartest state or Kansas is not a prerequisite for seeing how problematic this may be to a state's overall educational system.

FACT #4: A critical detail that accentuates the burden of education in Arizona, once again, can be obtained from the United States Census Bureau. Since 1990, the population of the United States increased by 13.1%. Vermont's population, again not to pick on Vermont but to point out the absurdity of these rankings, increased 8.2.

Arizona's population increased 40%. With increased population comes the burden of educating the children. Thus, add to this picture overcrowded older schools, new schools with limited budgets and lack of supplies, and all the other variables which go with new school start-ups. If you draw a giant dollar sign, that should help describe the situation in Arizona.

A forty percent increase in population in fifteen years is hugely significant, and has to be factored into the equation.

Doth the Lady Protest Too Much? She Dothn't.

It could very well be true that Arizona is the dumbest state, but in making a list, it is misleading not to include the above data. Though Morgan Quitno Press comes up with some valid assertions, they are based on their limited criteria, which omit handicaps some states have.

The question about smartest and dumbest has to include what states are doing about their educational problems (taking into consideration that all states have unique situations), and the effectiveness of these programs. The question about smartest and dumbest also must include comparable finances backing these programs.

Regardless of the label, Arizona is working hard at improving.

In order to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind Act, state report cards must be made available to all parents. I received my copy of this report card last week from Arizona's Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Horne. Within the brochure, results of the AIMS test were listed. AIMS is Arizona's Instrument to Measurement Standards (AIMS), a test which provides educators and the public with valuable information regarding the progress of Arizona's students toward mastering reading, writing, and mathematics standards. Within the report card brochure, these were detailed by race and ethnic group. Though there were different results between races and ethnic groups, the fact was clear that each group was surpassing the AMO (Annual (federally mandated) Measurable Objectives) and prior years [9]. Vermont's report card, obviously also required by No Child Left Behind, had similar results but on a much smaller scale [10].

Arizona's inherent problems will not disappear, but when judging a state as a whole, if this diversity is not accounted for, then the outcome is flawed and irrelevant. --












©2005 Felice Prager.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The World According to Señor Poje´

What I said was, "Which part of 'NO' don't you understand?" but what my son said he heard was, "I'd just love to have a tarantula living in my house." I've considered having his hearing checked, but instead, I was deciding which piece of furniture was the highest off the ground so that when Señor Poje´ opened the latch on his tarantula cage and came looking for the mean lady who wouldn't give him a home, I could be high enough off the ground to jump to my death rather than being eaten alive by an irate arachnid.

It's when my son used school as his reason for needing Señor Poje´ "just until school starts" that I became suspicious. "It's for school," had always worked in the past with things like expensive calculators, software, and top-of-the-line backpacks. However, I had him this time! I mentally went through his class schedule.

"Gotcha! You don't have science this year!" I said.

My son countered with, "Remember, my biology teacher from freshman year? He keeps pets in his classroom. I'm going to trade Señor Poje´ for a letter of recommendation for college."

Thus, Señor Poje´ was alive and well and eating crickets in a cage on a shelf in my 17-year-old son's bedroom until the third day of school this year. I wrote up a formal contract and had my son sign it just in case his freshman biology teacher said he had enough class pets. "He's going back out in the desert where he belongs if you can't find him a home," I said. My son nodded and signed on the dotted line, but I knew he was already at Step Five when I was just coming to terms with Step One.

On the third day of school, Señor Poje´ found his new home in the biology lab at my son's high school. There was no need to negotiate for a letter of recommendation. A few teachers enthusiastically told my son they would write letters for him. Not one of them required an arachnid as payment for services rendered.

We have gone through the class pet thing a few times. Caring for the class hamster for a weekend in first grade led to the adoption of a series of pet hamsters. When I learned the average life-expectancy of a hamster is about two years after a $100 vet bill for which I was told that there was nothing one could do to stop the blood coming from Xena, Warrior Hamster's rear end, I told my son to find a more cost-effective pet.

That's when the hermit crabs moved in. My son fed them garbage and discussed how hermit crabs are environmentally important. We watched them move in and out of shells until they finally shed their crusty outer bodies one last time, shriveled up, and died. I saw nothing environmentally important about hermit crab bodies rotting in my son's bedroom.

There were several fish which kept living and living and living. These were not class pets. These were school fair prizes. My son did not actually do anything to win these. He simply batted his eyelashes and his teacher handed him a plastic bag with two gold fish in it.

Then there were those swimming things he brought home from the drainage ditch by his elementary school playground. They started as a school experiment, and then my son volunteered to continue the science project in his bathroom at home - in my house. The swimming things lived in a fish tank with a giant rock in it so the swimming things could become tadpoles and then toads which needed to eat things that others pay exterminators to get rid of. I believe my older son added aftershave or cologne to the water in hopes that the tadpoles would die and he would have more counter space, but that's debatable because they did not die and eventually my son, the science experiment caretaker, was forced to put the frogs back by the drainage ditch because they were starving to death. They did not like store-bought bugs. At least that's how I interpreted my lack of desire to keep buying them.

My older son never got into unusual pets. I think that's because when he was in third grade, his teacher made him mount and identify bugs for a project. I watched as he scooped bugs from the pool, and with tweezers, collected his bugs. He was okay until he had to push the pin through the bug to mount it. I believe Tarantula Boy did that for him. I certainly did not. I was fine with all of this because it was "for school" until a scorpion he found at the bottom of the pool proved that this species will outlive man. With the pin pushed through its back, after spending a good deal of time at the bottom of the pool, the scorpion came out of its water-induced coma, pulled his body -- pin and all -- out of the cork board, and was found walking on my son's pillow.

For years my sons have heard me mutter things about school projects, class pets, and hands-on science experiments.

It's not as if my sons have been pet-deprived. We have four cats. We have always had cats. If you look at my carpet and find a stain, I can name the creator of that stain in four notes. We have more litter boxes in my house than bathrooms because the cats do not share. My husband and I share a bathroom. I could say I won't share, but that won't get me my own litter box.

I blame the unusual pets on teachers. I know I am a teacher, too, but I specialize in English, so I am above reproach. English teachers do not do parts of animal anatomy; English teachers do parts of speech. However, just point me toward a science classroom or an elementary school classroom, and I will bet something is alive or has been alive in a cage or a tank within that classroom at some time in that teacher's career. You are guilty! Admit it! You are why Señor Poje´ and the other menagerie of unusual pets have lived in my son's bedroom. You are why my son could not mow the lawn last week when he had to go to PetsMart to buy crickets for Señor Poje´ because that was part of the terms for his adoption by the biology teacher. And you are why my son has left the spot on his shelf open because Señor Poje´ is returning at the end of the school year. "You said he had to be out by the third day of school," said my son, "but the contract didn't say a thing about his return engagement."

©2005 Felice Prager.

Originally published by the Irascible Professor

Friday, September 10, 2010

Finding My Humor

(Note: This is the first column I wrote and sold after 9/11. I normally repost it around September 11 every year, but I think it is more appropriate to repost it now.)

Finding My Humor
By Felice Prager

"I'm holding up well. We all are. I was home all of last week but tried to go into work today. I was able to get into the building, but we didn't have any power or phones, so I went home. It was pretty strange downtown. The smell of burning was everywhere and there were still ashes drifting around. Strangest thing was seeing the soldiers though. On my way home, I stopped by the deli where I get my breakfast every morning to make sure everyone was OK. They were a block closer and at street level. They were all fine. We hugged and cried. Very emotional. The building guy said ConEd was working grid by grid. I won't go into the city tomorrow but probably will try again Wednesday. I need to think of other things. How are you? Written anything lately? I could use a laugh."

(Email from a close friend who worked near where the World Trade Center used to stand.)

Through dark clouds of smoke, I open my eyes slowly, take a deep breath, and decide I must go on. I must be wise. I must look ahead from the darkness and the horror. I must remember. I must be strong.

I receive an email from my oldest friend who is still living in New Jersey.

"Do you remember when we hid under your bed during the air raid drills when we were in second grade?" she asks. I was just telling my kid about that last night. Air raid drills. A hundred years ago. A different world ago. Wearing pedal pushers and Keds, giggling with my best friend as we played with dolls during a safety drill, beneath the lavender bed frill on my lavender carpet. "Your father brought us cookies," she writes. "And then he told us not to make crumbs because your mother would be mad."

In my self-imposed solitary confinement, I must force myself to go out. I must not be alone. I must reach into my humanity and be part of the whole, not a piece floating on the edge. It is not a comfortable fit for me. With the world turned upside down, my thoughts have been squeezed beyond recognition and my heart has been emptied.

My older son comes into my office with a gold pencil sharpener in his hands. It is a replica of the World Trade Center. We got it while visiting family back east in 1991. We took the Path train under the Hudson River into the city and went to the top of the tower. The helicopter he could see at eye level mesmerized my younger son, but he says he doesn’t remember the trip at all. He doesn't remember his comments about cars looking like Matchbox cars below. My older son remembers his ears popping in the elevator and that it took a long time to get up to the top.

"Want this pencil sharpener for your desk?" he asks. "Maybe it will inspire you. Maybe it will help you write."

Self-motivation drives writers in various ways. With me, I know what I have to do to get in the mood. I know what works for me. It usually doesn’t take much. I love what I do, so getting in the mood to do what I love isn’t difficult. When I’m not stimulated enough to be creative, I know tricks to get there. However, the occurrences in the world have sent me soaring downward, and like everyone else, I keep reaching for a lifeline, and my hand keeps missing it. I am drained of emotion and full of emotion. I am confused and angry. I have more emotions going through me than I can control, and I’m afraid. Beyond that, I feel guilty.

I hear others talking, explaining, looking for words, "It’s hard," they say. "It’s just really hard."

It is hard.

"What do you remember most about New York?" I ask my husband. We haven’t lived there in more than a dozen years. "I mean besides the obvious. Besides the theater and the restaurants. Tell me some things you remember. I need something to hold onto. Tell me something funny you remember about New York."

I am looking for my humor. In the turmoil and sadness, it’s been buried deeply, and I’m feeling guilty even trying to find it. Where I can usually find words and twist them into humor, there are none. My words are mundane and trite. My words are cliché. At best, my words fit poorly.

"I remember when we you used to meet me in the city after work. Before the kids were born. When we used to go to the theater or dinner. You always insisted on wearing stupid shoes, and you always complained that you couldn’t walk because your feet hurt."

I did wear stupid shoes. I couldn't walk.

"That’s what you remember?" I ask him.

"You wanted something funny," he says.

"You find my foot pain funny?" I ask. "I wanted to look good for you. Those shoes were very fashionable."

"You did look good," he says. "You looked great. You just had to stand still the whole time."

I laugh and feel guilty laughing.

We watch some TV. We see the haunting images. We sit in silence.

"Remember the dessert at Windows on the World?" I ask. That was the restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center. "The best chocolate pecan praline mousse I have ever had."

We watch a bit more and my younger son comes in the room. He has a picture he’s printed out from something he's seen online. "Look at this," he says. "It was in the news." He shows us a picture. "People are saying they see the image of the devil in the smoke." It's a picture of the enormous clouds of smoke when the towers fell and within the smoke, there are definite shapes. I squint my eyes and see how they can see the shape of a devil, but shake my head at the thought.

My husband looks at the picture. "Adrienne Barbeau." He says. "That’s what I see."

"Jenna Berman," says our younger son. "That’s what I see."

"Who is Jenna Berman?" I ask.

"Period Four. Near the door. Blonde. Hot."

"Oh, he sees Jenna Berman in his Cheerios," my older son says.

We look at each other and there is some levity, but it’s short lived.

It's early in the morning, with the sun behind me. I head over roads with names like Squaw Peak and Dreamy Draw. I am in my Jeep. The top is pushed back. I see 200-year-old saguaros surrounded by concrete growing out of modern cement structures. I see pencil palm trees soaring above the world. I see architecture, crisp, new, and inventive. I am speeding. My foot is pushing, pushing, pushing on the pedal. The wind is blowing my hair into a river flowing behind me. The adrenaline is pumping me up to the place I need to be.

While driving with my senses in overdrive, I know I am going to get there. I will get my drug. I will have a great day of writing once again. I hope. My pad on the passenger seat with the pen in my hand, I am driving one handed, scribbling thoughts, words, sentences. I am getting past all the dysfunctional places I hate thinking about and getting those words onto paper. Whether or not I will be able to read them later is questionable, but it doesn't matter.

I’m sitting at a red light behind a white Dodge Grand Caravan. I can see through its rear window that the driver is a blonde woman and that there are two bouncing toddlers in the backseat. The children are not in car seats and from the height of each of their bounces, I can tell that they aren’t wearing seatbelts. The woman is putting on mascara with her head bent, keeping her cell phone tight between her shoulder and her ear. The traffic light turns green. She continues talking on the phone and applying her makeup while she drives through the intersection. She is drinking a can of Coke without a straw. I watch her bring the can to her mouth several times, tilting her head back to take a drink, presumably taking her eyes off the road. Every few minutes, I also see this multi-tasking wonder woman turn her head 180 degrees to yell at her children. She’s driving above the speed limit, and she is not staying in her lane.

Very out of character, I don’t get angry.

I’m singing again where I haven’t been able to sing. I’m harmonizing with Dave Matthews, occasionally getting a whole stanza of lyrics right. I’m bopping, even if slightly out of rhythm. With my blinker as warning, I calmly pull past the Caravan of Confusion. I don’t even give the driver of the Caravan the finger. Instead, I wave the small American flag I have on the passenger seat. She points to the flag on her car and gives me the thumbs up sign.

The volume on my CD player is on high, front and back speakers are pumping, woofers and subwoofers are earning their keep, and I can’t wait to get home. There are words screaming out of my head. I can’t scribble them down fast enough at the red lights. I can’t save the thoughts. They’re spilling out of my ears and out of my mouth. They’re sweet. They’re ripe. They taste so delicious. I want to seal my mouth shut so I don’t lose any of them. My heart is thumping. My head is screaming. The fear of losing them is panicking me. Gotta write. Gotta write.

I get home and write for hours. When I read back what I've written, I'm very disappointed, but at least there are words.

My younger son comes into my office after school. "I came up with a great way for you to support our economy," he says. "It's your patriotic duty. It's the American thing to do."

He puts a catalog in front of me. There are a bunch of tee shirts on the page. "I want this one," he says. The tee shirt is black with white lettering. It says, "What if the Hokey-Pokey IS really what it's all about!"

"Well?" he asks. "Can I have it? It's for America. It will help improve our economy."

I give him one of those looks that mothers reserve for sons. It's a look that can be interpreted many ways. My son interprets it internally and leaves my office, but he's laughing. "I knew you'd like that shirt," he says as he leaves the room.

I'm looking for my humor and it's appearing in small doses and on tee shirts in catalogs.

My humor is coming back.

But it’s hard.

It’s just really hard.
©2001 by Felice Prager.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Grand Canyon Skywalk

Before the Grand Canyon Skywalk even opened to the public, more than 2500 articles appeared about it in Great Britain, Germany, Italy, Japan, France, Australia, the United States, and other places around the world. Before anyone stepped out onto the cantilevered glass bridge, Popular Mechanics called it the “best of what’s new” in engineering. Ultimately, the Grand Canyon Skywalk has a lot of hype to live up to, and its fate will be determined by how tourists react to this new attraction. It has received a huge amount of national and international media attention, including having astronaut Buzz Aldrin lead the first walkers onto the Grand Canyon Glass Skywalk in a private ceremony on March 20, 2007. Since March 28, 2007, Grand Canyon Skywalk’s opening day, the lines to get onto the glass bridge have been long and interest has remained strong - despite the heat, the cost, the conditions in this remote area of Arizona, and the controversy surrounding the construction.

The Grand Canyon Skywalk is located at Grand Canyon West on the Hualapai Indian Reservation. It is not in Grand Canyon National Park as many have thought it was. In fact, it is a 3-hour drive from Las Vegas through Hoover Dam, a 6-hour drive from Phoenix through Wickenburg and Kingman, and a 5-hour drive from the Grand Canyon’s South Rim. Geographically speaking it is located approximately halfway between Las Vegas and the South Rim, but it is not easy getting there.
No matter what route you take, Dolan Springs Diamond Bar Road is at the end of your trip. This is a 15-mile unpaved and deeply rutted road. Since car rental agencies consider this off-road travel, you will be held liable if any damage to your vehicle is incurred. In addition, unless you are an off-road savvy driver or passenger, this is not for everyone.
Many who have visited Grand Canyon West’s Skywalk have opted to take advantage of a Park and Ride Shuttle Service offered from the Grand Canyon West Welcome Center located near Meadview, Arizona. This costs $10 per person and reservations are required.

There is also an entry fee of $49 per person into Grand Canyon West. This is called the “Spirit Package” which includes a permit to enter the area, photo opportunities with members of the Hualapai tribe in ceremonial regalia, Native American performances, transportation to a non-working mine and the glass bridge, and an all-you-can-eat western style buffet lunch. There are upgrades available to this package that include rim-side Hummer tours and horseback riding, helicopter rides down to the Colorado River, and pontoon trips on the river. These upgrades cost between $50 and $200 per person.

None of these fees includes actually walking onto the Grand Canyon Skywalk. That costs an additional $25 per person. Thus, the minimum cost for this excursion, is $75 per person. For the adventurous, it could wind up costing several hundred dollars per person.

The Skywalk is a U-shaped glass bridge jutting 70 feet past the rim of the Grand Canyon. The other side of the Canyon can be seen three miles away. The bridge is advertised as being 4000 feet high although it is said to be only about 2000 feet from the bridge to the Colorado River below which is already high above sea level. The Skywalk is not directly above the main canyon, Granite Gorge, which contains the Colorado River, but instead extends over a side canyon. The walls and floor are built from glass that is 4 inches thick. According to the press, the Skywalk is capable of holding 70 tons of weight, or the equivalent of 800 people weighing 175 pounds each. However, the permitted capacity on the Skywalk is limited to 120 persons at a time. Promotions claim that the Skywalk is sturdy enough to hold the weight of a dozen fully loaded 747’s, and strong enough to withstand winds up to 100 miles per hour and earthquakes.

Before stepping onto the glass walkway, all cameras, cell phones, keys, and other personal belongings must be surrendered so as not to puncture or scratch the glass. Visitors are given booties to wear over their shoes for the same purpose. Though the tourist is invited to bring cameras to the Skywalk, these are not permitted on the bridge. Souvenir photographs are available for sale.

Many visitors have been disappointed with the differences between the artist renderings and advertisements of the Skywalk and what the Skywalk actually is like. It is not as picturesque as the original well-know Grand Canyon National Park but it is still awe-inspiring.

To the dismay of many travelers, the site itself is also not developed yet as it is a work-in-progress. Those who have spent the money to see and walk on the bridge claim it looks more like a construction site. The site has at least 15 more years of construction ahead of it, at a minimum, to get it to be as the builders envision it.

There is also no nearby lodging available at this time. Tourists must go to Kingman which is one and a half hours away or to Laughlin or Las Vegas which is further just to find hotels. Some have opted to travel from Las Vegas or the South Rim via airplane tours to avoid the difficulties in finding lodging at the site.

To date, the Skywalk has experience long lines in blistering heat. Grand Canyon West is considerably hotter than Grand Canyon National Park. Since it is so far from civilization, there has been a shortage of water and food at times.

It is hoped that Grand Canyon West’s Skywalk Project will give an economic boost to the Hualapai Indian Tribe, who have battled widespread unemployment and poverty for decades. That is their dream though it is still far off. The concept was the dream of Las Vegas entrepreneur, David Jin, who, with the help of Las Vegas design firm, Lochsa Engineering, came up with this project.

According to Hualapai officials, the cost of the Skywalk alone will exceed $40 million when it is complete. This includes nothing but the Skywalk. Future plans for the Grand Canyon Skywalk Complex include a museum, movie theater, VIP lounge, gift shop, and several restaurants including a high-end restaurant called The Skywalk Café where visitors will be able to dine outdoors at the canyon's rim. The Skywalk is the cornerstone of a larger plan by the Hualapai tribe, which it hopes will be the catalyst for a 9,000-acre development to be called Grand Canyon West. This would open up a 100-mile stretch along the canyon's South Rim and include hotels, restaurants, a golf course, and cable cars to ferry visitors from the canyon rim to the Colorado River, which has been previously inaccessible. There are obvious protests to the environmental impact of such a project.

For varying reasons such as the above mentioned, there has been controversy about this project. From Native Americans to environmentalists, the project has been criticized.

Thus, the new Grand Canyon Skywalk has several shortcomings:

It is a long drive from anywhere.

Once you get there, the last 15 miles are bumpy and unpaved.

It is not in Grand Canyon National Park and the views are not as spectacular.

It is expensive.

Cameras are not permitted on the Skywalk.

Tourists are advised to bring sun protections (hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen) because the wait on the lines is long in the intense heat.

The project is environmentally unpopular.

It is a work in progress and resembles a construction site.

If tourists are willing to travel, brave the elements, and cover the cost of this excursion for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, it is important to understand the above variables before they go. Otherwise, it might be a better choice to wait for the site to be better developed.

That’s up to the individual tourist.
- - -
(This essay was published at in 2007.)

©2002, Felice Prager. All Rights Reserved. This blog is copyright protected. No item on this blog, including this essay or any photographs, may be used without the author's express written permission.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Real Math - What if they gave a test, and nobody passed?

Real Math - What if they gave a test, and nobody passed?

I am standing in the fruit department at Safeway. I have narrowed my choices to three cantaloupes. They are all pretty much the same: same size, same firmness, same coloring. I pick each one up and give it the “squeeze and sniff” test. I wonder to myself, “How many other people have sniffed the end of this cantaloupe? How many fingers have squeezed this melon rind?” I also try to recall where I learned how to do this. Did I watch my mother at the supermarket squeezing melons? It definitely isn’t something that was inborn, except I’m sure there are men out there who will swear they have a sixth sense, the melon sense. For me, I’m sure it’s something that took practice. I’m sure I didn’t always do it right. With experience I’ve become quite adept at the art of choosing my melons. Regardless, I put the cantaloupes back on the stand; I can’t eat melon while I’m on the Atkins Diet.

I like supermarkets. I spend a lot of time there. I find comfort in being near things I can’t eat. Plus, the people at the supermarket know me by name. “Thank you,” says the clerk, (glancing at my credit card receipt,) “Mrs. Prager. You’ve saved $11.56 by shopping at Safeway today.”

“If I’ve saved $11.56,” I reply, “where is it?”

My response leaves the clerk dumbfounded. “Can we help you to your car with your bags, Mrs. Prager?”

I don’t even correct his use of “can” instead of “may” --- I am on my best behavior at the supermarket. I need Safeway more than Safeway needs me. “Thank you, but I can load my own groceries,” I say with my polite supermarket smile.

Back in my Jeep, I examine my receipt. How could this meager amount of low carbohydrate food I just moved from the shopping cart be worth $100? (And how much fat did I burn moving it?) This gets me thinking about math. I start multiplying and dividing in my head:

If Felice works five hours, how much per hour does Felice have to earn to cover the $100 she just spent at Safeway on foods that definitely need some fiber in them to make them seem worthwhile?

I always find satisfaction in knowing I am able to solve for unknown variables.

Felice has Q pounds to lose. Given her highly resistant metabolism, she is only losing 1.5 pounds per week during her extended Induction Phase of the Atkins Diet. If she sticks to her diet, how many pounds will she have lost in six months, and will she fit into that expensive bathing suit she bought in 1993 and never wore. Will the bathing suit still be in style? And will her husband ever find out?

I’ve been thinking about math a lot lately. A day doesn’t go by when I don’t think about math. Maybe it’s that it is almost income tax time. Or maybe it’s the fact that I’m paying out-of-state tuition for my son to attend a state college in another state so that he can be with his girlfriend. Or maybe it’s what I read in the newspaper.

This was in the Arizona Republic (Jan. 25, 2004):

“On Monday, the State Board of Education will consider making it easier for this year's eighth-graders to pass the AIMS (Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards) math test they'll face in April. “This is the correction of an error,” Arizona schools chief Tom Horne said. “The problem is the way the test is scored.” In the past four years, no more than 21 percent of Arizona's eighth-graders have passed the AIMS math test, well below the passing rate of students who take the test in other grades. To pass, eighth-graders must get 78 percent of the 50 math questions correct. State officials want to change that passing score to about 72 percent, allowing students to miss three more questions. Had the change been in place in 2003, Horne said, 32 percent, instead of 21 percent, of Arizona's eighth-graders would have passed the test.”

Two years ago, when my kid was in eighth grade, he passed the AIMS test. He didn’t need a three questions gift to get over the bar. He did his homework, went for extra help when he didn’t understand, and worked hard.

“It’s 2 AM on a Tuesday morning, and Felice can’t sleep. She’s not hungry, but she just needs something to eat. She goes to the refrigerator and finds the half can of Diet Rite Cola she didn’t finish. She chugs it down. “Nope,” she says to herself, “I need something to chew.” She goes to the cabinet and finds the bag of pecans halves she bought at Safeway earlier in the day. According to Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution (page 174) one ounce of pecans equals approximately five grams of carbohydrates. If one ounce, according to Dr. Atkins, is equal to thirty-one nuts, and Felice eats fifteen and a half pieces, does Felice count these carbohydrates for Tuesday or for Wednesday? And did Dr. Atkins count a pecan half as one nut or do two halves equal one nut? Did Felice eat two and a half grams or one and a quarter grams of carbohydrates?

This was in the Arizona Republic (Jan. 14, 2004) a few weeks ago:

“Students who excel at math say a love for the subject and their parents' support are among the reasons they do so well…Parents can help by letting children gravitate toward the areas of math they like best, math experts say. Some children like variables while others are good at geometric shapes. ‘Let them go with their interests,’ said Bill Butterworth, associate professor of mathematics at Barat College of DePaul University in Lake Forest, Ill. Butterworth, who judged the high school math competition in Phoenix, said game shows such as The Price Is Right help children develop math skills of strategy and probability. He recommends parents work with their child's teachers and check out what math resources are available through the school. Many schools hold family math nights. Sophomore Jake Gottlieb of Scottsdale looks for math's real-life applications. When he was a child, he would play McDonald's restaurant with his mother, making ‘purchases.’ At age 3, he could count to 100. When he was 7, his parents bought him $100 in stocks so he could practice percentages. He sold the stocks about a year ago for $3,000.”

Maybe I was doing the right thing when I used to let my kid, with my supervision, make transactions at the store. When I owned my own business, I’d show my sons how invoicing worked. My sons knew what the “bottom line” was before they could ride two-wheeled bikes.
When hiring employees for my business, I used to ask two questions. They helped me decide who could think enough not to make a stupid math error when making a sale.

These were the questions:

1. If an item that costs $9.99 is on sale for 50% off, about how much will it cost?

2. You have to give a customer $26.25 in change. From the list below, what is the way you will use the least amount of bills in giving the customer change:
-two ten-dollar bills, one five-dollar bill, one one-dollar bill, and a quarter.
-One twenty-dollar bill, one five-dollar bill, one one-dollar bill, and a quarter.
-One twenty-five dollar bill, one one-dollar bill, and a quarter.

Job seekers answered “C” for the second question more times than I want to admit, and figuring out “about how much” for the first question took a pencil, paper, and time, and many times, their answers were far from five dollars. I would watch in amazement as they added or subtracted or multiplied or divided; then I’d show them the right way to estimate it in their heads and tell them I’d call if an opening became available.

My kid got both questions correct without my help. He was eight at the time.

So, what does this say? Nothing.

Yeah, nothing.

The proof was in the Arizona Republic (January 21, 2004) again:

“Scottsdale's newest reality TV star apparently has chosen fame and possible fortune over a career as a Catholic schoolteacher.Randi Coy quit her job Wednesday as a first-grade teacher at Pope John XXIII Catholic School Community in northeast Phoenix.Coy, 23, appears on the Fox show, My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance, which debuted Monday night with 19.6 million viewers nationwide. Coy had been on unpaid administrative leave from the school since Thanksgiving…On Friday, Coy told The Arizona Republic that she was unsure about her future."I'm young and I did this for the experience, and who knows what's going to happen?" Coy said. "But right now, I'm just taking it day by day. And hopefully, yes, definitely I'd like to go back to teaching. I'm just going to see what happens."But on the first episode of the six-episode series, Coy mentioned the difference between her teacher's salary and her potential $500,000 prize.”

I’ve been thinking about math a lot lately.

My son called the other night. This is the son who is going to an out-of-state college for which we’re paying out-of-state tuition. Apparently, he and his girlfriend are planning to go to Florida for Spring Break. They have it all figured out. They’ll get a cheap fare on plane flights and they’ll stay with her relatives. My son did not mention sending us any money to cover the cost of his car payments or auto insurance. Nor did he mention any other expenses they’d have in Florida beyond getting there.
Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’ve been spending too much time thinking about math.

©2004 by Felice Prager. All Rights Reserved.

Originally Published by the Irascible Professor.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Protecting Your Pet in Desert Environments

The desert, with its extreme heat, lack of precipitation and water sources, and unique exotic native plants and animals, is a deceptively challenging place to live, especially for those with pets. With the development of the desert, people often forget that the desert can be dangerous, if not deadly. It is the responsibility of the pet owner to take extra precautions with pets to protect them in the desert’s harsh environment. It is always err on the side of caution in the desert Southwest. Following these guidelines should help most pet owners keep their pets safe and healthy. For the most part, these guidelines are common sense.

1. On hot days, leave your pets at home, if possible. Your pets are safest and healthiest in their normal habitats. It is better for your pet to be lonely for a few hours than to subject a pet to the extremes of a desert environment.

2. Leaving a dog, cat, or any pet in a car, even with the air conditioning on, is only asking for trouble. Interior vehicle temperatures can reach 160 degrees or higher. Opening a window will not provide enough ventilation to cool a pet. Pets can die or suffer permanent brain damage in less than five minutes at those high temperatures. In addition, there have been horror stories where pets have accidentally put vehicles into gear. The car has rolled and the pets and humans have suffered the consequences. A pet will be healthier and happier at home.

3. Don’t tie up a dog anywhere. This is considered animal cruelty and is illegal in many areas.

4. For those who enjoy hiking with a dog, make sure your dog is in good physical condition before you attempt the outing. Prepare as you would for any hike, but add to your list of needs the requirements for your dog such as extra water. Bring a portable pet water bowl and damp towels in a plastic bag. Give your dog rest time in the shade no matter how well conditioned your pet is. Just because you are rested, it does not mean your pet is. Consider a longer rest to protect your pet. Since dogs cannot communicate physical distress until the situation is serious, be a careful observer of your dog’s needs. Train your dog and make sure the trail you choose is dog friendly. Pick up after your dog, for obvious reasons. Remember: heat exhaustion is very common with dogs. Early signs include rapid breathing, heavy panting, and salivating. Other signs include fatigue, muscle tremors, and staggering. Don’t allow your dog to get to this point, and if he does, take the dog to a cool, shady place and apply wet towels or cloths to help the dog’s body cool down. Try to give the dog small amounts of water and immediately contact a veterinarian.

5. If left outdoors, which is not advised, make sure your pet has access to shade during the entire day. What may be shady in the morning may be a hot, sunny spot as the day progresses. This is true of doghouses and other pet shelters, as well. Your pet needs shade to stay cool. It is possible to purchase items that help shade your animal including pet tents. It is well worth the investment for the safety of your pet.

6. Never leave your pet attached to any type of leash – even tethered lines. The danger of your dog being tangled and strangled is ever-present.

7. Leaving your pet outdoors on hot days has another disadvantage: it is common for a hot sunny day to turn into a violent summer monsoon storm, complete with lightning, thunder, flooding, and violent rushing water. Never leave your pet outdoors if there is a chance of a lightning storm.

8. When summer rain and monsoon season begins, desert toads (Colorado toads) emerge from their burrows. These are highly toxic to dogs. The dog may be interested in the toad because of natural curiosity, or the toad might go to your dog’s bowl of water. Any contact, including drinking the water in which the toad has been, can be fatal to your dog. Newly developed areas have these toads. You will not always see them since they spend much of their lives beneath the ground. Check your yard frequently for them before allowing your pet out in the backyard.

9. Pets are vulnerable to drowning. Though you can potentially teach a dog to swim its way to a step if it falls into a pool, the best answer is to keep all pets away from pools. Keep gates locked around pools, Jacuzzis, and hot tubs. If you keep a cover on your pool, make sure it can hold your pet’s weight in case your pet decides to walk on it.

10. Keep your pets away from hot grills. The danger is obvious.

11. Check the heat of the pavement before walking your dog. People who have moved here from other areas and new pet owners are often unaware of just how hot the pavement can get. If you cannot keep your hand on the pavement, it is too hot for your pet. Booties are available for this purpose, but even these are not always a good alternative on the hottest days. When in doubt, let your dog protect its feet by walking on grass or in the shade. You would not expect your dog to walk on hot coals. That is what the summer pavement is like on hot days.

12. Hot weather makes everyone thirstier but also raises the evaporation rate. Provide a larger bowl that will not tip over. If the water is outdoors, leave it in a shady area so it stays cool. Automatic watering bowls tend to stay cooler. There is a variety of new products available the refill pet bowls automatically and well worth the expense. If necessary, leave more than one bowl for a pet. If you have multiple pets, provide multiple bowls. In addition, wash the bowl well because evaporation tends to leave algae and calcium deposits.

13. Do not feed your pet outdoors. Besides the obvious, that pet food can spoil in extreme heat, pet food, especially dog food, attracts other predators such as skunks, javelinas, coyotes, bears, bobcats, and mountain lions that are a danger to your pet. The food is also an attraction to the poisonous desert toad.

14. Make sure your pet’s vaccinations are up-to-date.

15. Keep your pet indoors during celebrations such as the Fourth of July. Fireworks tend to frighten pets. Occasionally, in fear, they will bolt and get lost. It is also possible for a stray firecracker to wind up in your yard, potentially injuring your pet.

16. If javelinas (Wild boar) visit your property, keep your dogs away from them. Though they may seem harmless, they can inflict severe bites. They have poor eyesight and startle easily. If you are walking your dog and encounter a group of javelinas, keep your dog close to you and leave the area.

17. Rattlesnake bites can be deadly and require immediate veterinary attention. There will be immediate, painful swelling around the bite area. Keep your pet as calm as possible and transport it to the vet immediately. If you know your pet has been bitten but cannot identify the type of snake, the vet can administer a test to check. The Humane Society of Southern Arizona offers Snakebite Avoidance classes. Preventative measures include keeping your dog leashed, avoiding walks at night in the summer when snakes are more active, and not allowing your dog to investigate bushy areas, rocks, or areas where snakes may be hiding. Rattlers are territorial, so if you see one, avoid that area in the future.

18. With Gila monsters, leave them alone. Gila monsters are not aggressive and will only bite after being provoked, but the bite of a Gila monster is severe, painful, and poisonous. Gila monsters hibernate and are sometimes trapped in the yard of new homes that were built during the winter.

19. Tarantulas are not dangerous despite how scary they may appear. They leave their burrows at night during monsoon season in search of a mate.

20. Scorpions can inflict painful stings. Clean up rock and brush piles from your home and do not allow your pet to dig under rocks to avoid being stung. Some believe certain pets are immune to scorpion stings. Even if this is true, which most believe is not the case, the sting is painful. If your pet is stung, do as you would a human. Apply ice to the area and contact your veterinarian for further advice and monitoring.

21.Valley Fever is a disease caused by a fungus that occurs in the soil of the Southwest. It can afflict both humans and many companion animals, but it is NOT transferred between them. It general causes problems when the immune system becomes overwhelmed. The severity varies greatly and there is no vaccine, just treatment. Symptoms include fever, weight loss, and cough, but these symptoms can be caused by other problems. If you suspect your pet has Valley Fever, consult your veterinarian for assistance.

22. Letting your cat or small dog out by itself is the sure way to lose it, even in a fenced yard. In addition to coyotes, there are bobcats, hawks, and owls that are big enough to carry off a small pet. Even if it feels like you live in suburbia, don’t forget that this is a desert. Wildlife moves along washes – looking for a meal – and if you leave your small pet outdoors, it might spell your pet’s demise.

23. If your pet is an indoor pet, such as a hamster, a tortoise, or any other small animal kept in a cage, keep it that way. These animals do not fair well outdoors. Their bodies are not suited for the heat and if they are, by keeping them indoors, their needs have changed.

24. The chance of poisoning a pet accidentally is higher during the spring and summer. Fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides can be dangerous or even fatal to pets. If your lawn or yard has been treated, keep your pet away from the area. Pets are good at finding poorly stored chemical products and chewing up the containers and eating and drinking the contents. Pet owners should be especially vigilant about storing these products.

25.Some groomers believe the best way to keep a dog cool in the summer is to give the dog a close grooming. Though this may seem like a logical solution, it isn’t for most breeds. A dog’s fur is protection from the cold, the heat, and the elements such as the sun. For some breeds, long hair keeps them cooler than removing it. If you are considering a haircut for your pet, thoroughly research your breed and lean toward not getting the pet’s fur removed if the dog will be out in the sun. Like a human, the dog can get a severe sunburn and have no way of communicating this pain to you.

There are other basic rules for specific animals such as horses and animals suited for desert life such as giant tortoises. If you own one, become an expert about caring for your pet in the desert. Your pet will appreciate it and will have a better chance of surviving.

(This piece was published at