Saturday, September 22, 2012

Hello, old friends and followers who may still be looking here for updates. It's been along time since I've posted anything. It certainly isn't because I haven't had a lot to post. I moved to St. Petersburg, Fla., in the fall of 2008 with my husband of 31 years. We both took advantage of early retirement offers in Ohio. He got a teaching job down here; I was freelancing. Life was good for about a year. That's when I found out he was cheating on me -- with a man. In 2010, he left me to live a new kind of life with a new kind of mate. It was tough. He had been not only been my husband but also my best friend for most of my life. He just walked out the door and never looked back. I was devastated. I was alone down here and without a job. I had to start life over again in middle age. It was really tough and scary but thankfully I had my sons, my family and good friends to lean on. Then I met a terrific guy named Dave Knize who loved me very much. I got a job at the St. Pete (now Tampa Bay) Times writing and editing in the features department. Dave thought I was a rock star because I worked there. He was really smart, read a lot and loved the news. Six months after we met, we tired of the two-hour commute between our houses and he moved in with me. He was retired after a lifelong career running the respiratory therapy departments in a hospital group in Fort Myers. It was easier for him to move. Things were great; his love for me immense. It felt as if we had always been together and we knew we would always be together. We'd get married sometime. Not quite a year later, Dave got a terrible pain under his right rib. One test led to another test led to another test lead to the diagnosis: liver cancer -- which had gotten there because it had spread from his lungs. He had extensive small-cell lung cancer, the worst, most aggressive cancer a person can get. No one survives long with it; if they do go into remission, it comes back quickly. He immediately started chemo even though it did no good. Toward the end, I would push him up in a wheelchair to get chemo. In hindsight, that seems like the most ridiculous, most cruel thing in the world. Why did I continue to push this increasing frail, weak man into the hospital to get useless poison pumped into him? Because we didn't know any better. Because we did what the doctor told us to do. Because we didn't want to believe it was happening. Because we wanted to have hope. On Aug. 29, almost six months to the day he was diagnosed, Dave died. I took care of him until the end. I watched him get progressively worse every day. He didn't deserve to die. He was one of the good ones. I miss him a lot. Funny, though, after my husband left, I was desperate to find someone else to love immediately. I felt incomplete. I felt like a failure. I felt like a fool. I don't feel any of those things now. I just feel sad and lonely. I want him to come back. But I won't let this defeat me. Dave wouldn't want it to. I'm living for both of us now. And I'm not alone anymore. I got two jet black maniac kittens, not babies exactly but teen kittens whose legs are too long for their bodies. They are full of life. They are joyous. They make me happy. We're all going to be OK.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Does anyone have contact information for Mr. Runkle? Or, Mr. Runkle, if you are reading this, would you get in touch with me? I will give you privacy and respect.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Mr. Runkle deserves better

I was in Mr. Runkle's class.
It was during Parents' Night. I sat there as a student would and listened to the seventh-grade science teacher talk about his teaching and grading and disipline philosophies.
It was hard to concentrate -- and not because of the subject matter or the teacher's public speaking skills.
It was because the room was lined with cages. I mean lined. Cages on low tables; cages on higher tables; cages stacked on cages.
There were chinchillas and snakes and everything in between.
"What a cool class," I thought.
It was Mr. Runkle's classroom menagerie and he was there seven days a week taking care of it. He stayed long after school let out and was always there on weekends.
I know because we lived only a few blocks from the school and we could see his car parked there all the time.
My kids really liked his class and I was glad they had him for a teacher.
Maybe you've heard about Dean Runkle.
He's been accused of killing Amy Mihaljevic, the 10-year-old abducted from a Bay Village shopping center in 1989.
Not accused as in accused by police, accused as in accused by Scene magazine writer James Renner based on (in his words) "five or six pieces of circumstantial evidence."
Well, shoot, this "news" is creating shock waves from one side of this country to the other as former students and parents hear about it.
The reactions follow the same pattern -- disbelief followed by a "well, he was a weirdo" followed by a "yeah, a weirdo who was able to motivate middle-school kids" and back to disbelief.
So, who IS this Scene magazine writer who has put Mr. Runkle on a skewer and dangled him over the jaws of those vicious and often illiterate Internet posters who care little for fact and even less for proof?
I Googled Renner.
He's a 30-year-old Cleveland author and film critic who is obsessed with Amy Mihaljevic.
He's also somewhat of a publicity hound. Check out his Today Show man-to-man kiss at
So, he's a (relative) kid throwing a 65-year-old strange but dedicated former teacher under the bus with "five or six pieces of circumstantial evidence," which were not enough for the FBI.
It just doesn't seem fair to me.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Insect screens aren't lizard-proof

Yesterday, I did something I have never done before.
I plucked petrified lizards out of the windowsills in our new house.
That's the coolest thing about relocating -- all the new experiences a person has.
I was dusting and vacuuming and sweeping up a storm, dancing around like Cinderella, so excited that the sale of the house had finally closed and it was ours. We get to move -- today! -- out of the tiny apartment where we use beach chairs for furniture and have only two plates, two forks and two glasses in the kitchen cupboard.
Anyway, in my Cinderella cleaning-frenzy, I noticed the windowsills were awfully dirty. I put the hose on the vacuum and just as I was about to shove it into the window crevice, I saw the lizard.
He was all stretched out and could have been the decorative handle on a drink-stirrer or a pate knife.
I didn't think it was a good idea to suck him into the vacuum. So what?
I made my thumb and forefinger into a pair of tweezers and then, plucked him out and tossed him on the floor.
I'll sweep him up later, I thought, as I continued vacuuming the windowsill.
Then I moved to the next window. There was an even bigger petrified lizard in that sill.
Poor things, I thought. They must have wriggled in through the screen and then were too dumb to remember how they got in and starved to death.
I involuntarily shuddered.
I plucked him out and vacuumed that sill.
Then I went to the third window. It was filled with lizard carcasses. In fact, a tanner could have probably made a belt -- do they make lizard-skin belts? -- out of all their hides.
I plucked them one by one onto the floor where it looked like a lizard ball.
I had tossed them all in relatively the same area and there they were, all lying around on the floor.
Hmm, I should have counted them.
Nah, that would have been too weird.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Hooked on Florida

I saved my first shore bird.
It was a sunny day in St. Petersburg on Friday. The temperature was a degree or two shy of 90 and I had to use windshield wipers to see through the humidity.
I put two cans of pop (liquid is a good thing in the tropics) in an insulated lunch bag and then stuffed that bag, a book, a towel, a baggie filled with pretzels and my binoculars – an often overlooked beach necessity -- into a bigger bag, grabbed a chair and drove to Gulfport Beach.
Gulfport, a southern neighborhood of St. Pete, is where we are going to live if our bank-owned house ever closes -- but that's for another story.
Anyway, it was really hot so I thought I'd walk out to the end of the pier where the breeze off the water is great.
By the time I walked the two blocks from public parking to the pier -- regretting I didn't leave my stuffed beach bag in the trunk with my chair -- my hair was sticking to the back of my neck, sweat beads were running down my forehead and blisters were beginning to form where my rubber flip-flops rubbed against the sweaty tops of my feet.
And people wonder why they call this paradise!
I said hello to a burly fisherman casting a net over the side of the pier.
“What are you trying to catch with that?” I asked him as I pushed my sunglasses back up my sweaty nose.
“Bait. Little fish for bait,” he said.
Hmmm. I know those fish. In fact, I caught one myself just the other day on St. Pete Beach. Something tickled in the top of my bathing suit. I looked down and there was a little silver fish. I didn’t freak out as much as the man 20 feet away from me in the water who saw more than the little fish as I wriggled it out of the top of my suit.
I continued on my way, walking out the pier. The only other people on it were an Asian couple, each with three or four active fishing rods leaning up against the railing.
I smiled and said hello but they just responded with that nod and smile that says, “I know the word hello but not a lick of English beyond that.”
As I got to the end of the pier, I could see a huge bird standing on it. It was a heron. It must have been about 4 feet tall, just standing there all spindly and, wait, there was something hanging out of its mouth.
I got closer and the gangly bird started to bob away. I stopped but squinted to see what it was chewing on.
A fishing line!
It had a fishing line hanging out of its mouth.
How will it eat with that hook in its throat? How did it get there? How will it survive?
I had to get help. I got to the Asian fisherman first.
He nodded and smiled at me as I approached.
I pointed to the heron and then stuck my pointer finger into my mouth, crooked it and poked my cheek out from the inside, the universal symbol for “that bird out there swallowed a fishing hook.”
He smiled and nodded. I nodded and again pointed to the bird but by this point, the man had gone back to his fishing.
Then I saw the burly fisherman who was casting nets for those little bait fish.
“That bird out there swallowed a fishing line,” I said.
“I know. I saw it. People gotta clean up after themselves. They cut their lines, leave them laying around and the birds get at them,” he said.
“Want to help me catch him?” I asked, smoothing out my sundress in an attempt to look more like a serious conservationist than a sweaty tourist-turned-resident.
“Well, ma’am,” (that’s what they call women down here) the man laughed, “I don’t know what we’d do with that bird once we caught it.”
He was probably right. I pushed my sunglasses back up my sweaty nose and continued flip-flopping down the pier. I kept turning around to make sure the bird was still there.
Now what?
Then I remembered a new friend I had made days earlier -- the owner of the used book store. She was only a couple blocks away. She'd know who to call.
I was in luck. She knew someone who knew someone who had the number of the local volunteer for the Shore Bird Sanctuary.
By the time I got back to the pier, there were four people on it: the burly man, the Asian couple and an older woman, who was thin, wearing shorts, a white T-shirt, white anklet socks – and carrying a net.
The shore bird saver!
I could hardly wait to get to her, to tell her I was the one who called, to ask her if I could help.
“He’s gone,” she said to me before I could speak. “This is the second time today that I’ve been out on this bird and he’s never where the people say he is.”
The people?
“That guy,” she said, pointing to the bait fisherman, “said it was here five minutes ago but now it’s gone.”
“Does it bob on the water? Like that?” I asked her as I pointed to a duck 50 feet away.
“Heavens, no. They have no means of swimming,” she said as she walked away from me.
But I wasn’t done. I set my beach bag on the pier and pulled out my beach necessities one at a time until I found the binoculars.
I scanned the horizon, looking for the bird.
I spotted him. He was on a dingy tied to a shorter wooden pier a little way down the beach.
I frantically looked around for the bird rescuer. I spotted her scurrying along the shore.
I stuck my arm up in the air and waved it at her like someone lost at sea would wave at a low-flying aircraft.
She saw me.
“He’s out there,” I mouthed to her as I pointed to the other pier.
She started to walk toward me as I rushed to her.
“Look, he’s eating the bait out of a bucket on that dingy,” I said as I thrust my binoculars at her.
“Now, why would anyone leave bait on that dingy?” she asked as she took my binoculars.
She held her glasses in one hand as she tried to look out of the binoculars. She tilted them and made them wider and then narrower and then, annoyed, pushed them back to me.
“I can't see out of these."
And then, "I have my own binoculars ... in the car.”
“That’s him,” I said. “You can see the wire hanging out of his mouth.”
She grunted in agreement.
“Well, we’ll just have to hope he walks into my lure,” she said as she walked toward her car.
“Can I help?” I asked, walking as fast as a woman with blisters on the top of her feet and a 20-pound beach bag hanging off her left arm can.
“No,” she said.
So I took a spot on a bench on the beach and watched out of my binoculars as the wiry, white-haired woman went after the hooked heron.
She walked to the end of the pier where the dingys were tied up and then she bent at the waist and did something with her lure, which was a pole with a neon-green net tied to one end of it.
I couldn’t tell what she was doing but all of a sudden, she leaned back and then threw her bony arm forward, casting her lure like a fisherman casting a line.
I rotated my arms so that my binoculars moved from her, down her pole to the net.
Holy shit. It looked like she bagged an emu.
She must have had him by the foot because he was hopping one-legged toward her.
As quickly as she caught him, she scooped him up and out of the net and had the enormous bird folded up and tucked under one arm. She held its beak shut with her free hand.
I ran toward her and she walked back from the end of the pier.
“That was great!!” I said. “How did you do that?”
“I’ve done it lots of times,” she said, more annoyed with me than the emu she had tucked under her arm.
I followed her to her car, continuing to tell her how amazing she was.
She interrupted me in mid-praise.
“Now you can help me. Get those scissors off the front seat and cut this.”
She was pointing to the fishing line that was wrapped around the bird’s neck.
When I got close to the bird, I could see that while it may be 4 feet tall, it only weighs about 4 ounces. It was all spindle and feather.
I got the scissors and cut the line. The hero woman unwound it from the bird’s neck and then carried the bird to an awaiting dog crate in the back of her car.
This is where I found out why the bird had been so subdued: She was holding its beak shut. To put it in the crate, she had to let go of the beak – and immediately lost control of the beast.
As she thrust it toward the door of the crate, that bird extended every possible thing on its body that it could extend to keep from going into the cage – it opened its beak, outstretched its wings, raising every feather as high off its body as it could. It spread its long, stick legs and all the toes on it as wide as it could.
But, in another feat of magic by the rescue woman, it was momentarily in the cage and sulking, its face smashed into a corner.
“Are you taking it to a vet?” I asked of the bird that still had fishing line hanging out of its beak.
“There’s a hospital at the sanctuary,” she said. “They know what to do. They don’t even have to cut the bird. They just reach down its throat and get the hook out.”
Reach down its throat and get the hook out.
“Does this happen a lot?” I asked.
“Yes, it does,” she said getting into her car.
I picked up my beach bag and watched as she drove away.
I scooched my feet back in my flip-flops, keeping the rubber away from my blisters and I walked back to my car.
I threw my stuff in the trunk and got it. I was feeling pretty good, having saved a living creature and all.
Never mind the heat and the blisters and the fact that both my cans of pop were long gone, it really was just another day in paradise ...

Friday, October 10, 2008

House for sale -- cheap

It's 88 degrees in St. Petersburg today. Good thing me and my stuff are in air conditioning.
Now, if I can just get us in the same air-conditioned space.
As I sit in the living room of our one-bedroom apartment in my beach chair, I dream about the comfy couch across town in a storage facility.
But the end is coming soon!
We bought a house -- a foreclosed house -- from the bank.
The real estate market in southwestern Florida is as bad or even worse than the one I left in Lorain, Ohio.
There are so many houses for sale and most of them are in at least PRE-foreclosure, which seems to mean nothing more than the step before full-blown foreclosure.
We had to look for a second house after the first one we "bought" did not appraise as high as the price we had agreed to pay. The buyers wouldn't budge so we walked away from the deal.
As it turns out -- GOOD THING!
I ended up finding a crackerjack ball-of-fire real estate agent named Delia and she had a house up her sleeve.
It's brand new and twice as big as the first one and has marble and tile throughout -- and we got it for almost exactly half of the price it was when it was foreclosed on two years ago. Since then it has been sold at auction, another deal that fell through. We are the third buyers of this new house. It must have been like gum on the bottom of the shoe of the bank that owned it for it to be offered at such a great price.
We should be in by the end of the month.
It doesn't have a pool -- a deal breaker for my husband -- but with the money we saved buying it, we can afford to put one in -- immediately.
The woman who foreclosed on this house, located in the Gulfport area of St. Pete, was from California. She had it built -- with all the upgrades -- but for some reason never moved in or, obviously, paid for it.
Buyers are lucky in this market but poor sellers certainly aren't.
What's going to happen to all these houses that are worth so much less than the owners paid for them? I don't know but I hope somebody smart figures it out soon -- hopefully someone smart enough not to ask "hockey moms" what the bailout plan should be.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Moving heaven and earth -- and my stuff

The movers were coming.
The big orange semi into which all my worldly belongings were loaded in Lorain last Friday was set to pull into Quality Self Storage on Pasadena Avenue in St. Petersburg at 8 a.m. Wednesday.
Walid (pronounced Wall-eed), the main mover, called me and said to meet him there.
I made sure I got there on time. Something says you shouldn't anger in any way the man who holds all your earthly possessions.
Plus, it would give me a chance to find some things I wish I would not have packed -- like all my clothes and my toaster.
There we were -- Walid, a local moving man named Greg who was there to help and me -- in front of the Quality Self Storage at 8 a.m.
Too bad the place didn't open until 8:30.
Yikes. I offered to go find coffee for the kind mover men.
We finally got into the place and started unloading. My compartment could only be accessed from inside the huge warehouse because I got a unit that was "climate controlled," which means it is in air-conditioning.
I watched as boxes marked "books" were loaded onto dollys on top of boxes marked "fragile -- wine glasses."
I thought I better help.
So there I was in 90-degree heat and humidity, working right alongside the two men.
I plucked out a box here and there. Some marked "kitchen," some marked "Patti's clothes," some marked "EXTREMELY fragile."
Most of those boxes would be placed toward the front of the storage unit so I could get access to them at a later time.
A few of the others, I would take back to the teeny little one-bedroom apartment my husband and I are inhabiting until we find a house we like, er, can afford.
About three hours into the unloading-off-the-truck-and-reloading-into-a-storage-unit, it became apparent -- to Walid, at least -- that everything wasn't going to fit into one unit.
So, soon we had two.
I was chasing after the cart- and dolly-wielding moving men, trying to read what the boxes were labeled. Darn, I wish I would have put bright yellow stripes on the important ones.
Walid, who came to the United States from Syria 20 years ago, assured me 1. he would stop loading books on wine glasses and 2. he would keep the boxes I need toward the front of the unit.
It took "us" eight hours to get everything unloaded. About six hours in, I gave up caring about anything. They could put the stuff in however they wanted.
I was sitting on the curb outside the warehouse when Walid came to tell me they were finished.
"It was close but we got it all in," he said.
"Just be careful when you open the second unit. We had to put the TV on top."
The TV? The 52-inch TV? On top of what?
"Can I get at the boxes I need?"
Walid didn't answer.
"If you take the TV home first," he said.
"Let's go look," I told him.
He followed me into the warehouse and we stood before the closed door of the unit.
"It's in there," he said.
"Can we open it and look?" I asked.
"We better not."
We better not? What does that mean? We better not when he's still here?
"I want to see what happens when we open that door -- while you are still here," I told him.
So, he pulled open the garage-door-like metal door.
There before my eyes was my stuff -- packed from floor to ceiling. I could see the front tire of a bike and piles of boxes. And right in the front -- if it was any closer, it would be touching the door -- was the back of the big TV.
Oh, well. At least, I had put some boxes in my car to take home with me.
I was too tired to see if I grabbed good boxes until this morning.
I pulled the tape off and opened them.
The kitchen boxes contained not the toaster or my coffee grinder but cups and casserole dishes.
The boxes marked "Patti's clothes" contained not shorts and T-shirts but sweatshirts and shoes.
Well, I never win the regular lottery -- why should I win the box lottery?
Hopefully, we'll be in a new house soon and I'll be able to have everything I need.
Until then, you'll find me walking around in sweatpants and high-heeled pumps as I try to brown my toast in a casserole dish in the oven.