Miss Brennenstuhl- 6th Grade – A Peek Into my Life.

Miss Brennenstuhl.  My forever favorite teacher.  How I even remember how to spell her name is a miracle in of itself.  Up until junior high, my teachers would be female.

Miss Brennenstuhl was my 6th grade teacher.  She had blonde hair and wore glasses.  She was quite angular and thin with long legs.  She wore shirt waist dresses with flowing skirts. Her full lips covered a slight overbite and she kept them painted with bright red lipstick and  I remember she smiled easily. Oh, and she smelled nice.  Was she pretty?  I don’t know, but to me she was old, but she had to have been at least 40 and I think I was more fixated on the noticeable amount of makeup and the stylish clothes she wore. To put it simply she was put together quite admirably. Why that impressed me, I have no clue. I was a tomboy.  When she wore her hair down, it was slightly longer and fuller on the bottom than Marilyn’s here but same style.  Her makeup almost exactly the same. When her hair was up, she was classy.

She was what one would have called, in those days, a spinster. An unmarried “older” woman over 30, yet looking not unlike the above pictures. She wore yellow often.

At times, she could be quite stern and because I was the child that was generally on any teachers bad side, I wasn’t on hers.  For some reason, she took to me.  Perhaps I was her challenge for the year.  The one she made it her goal to impact positively and she did.

School had not been easy for me.  In kindergarten, I remember having a teacher,  who did not accept that when I asked to go potty, I meant it.  I think she thought I was fooling around in the john.  Perhaps there were some kids who might have, but I really had to go. Often.

One day, just as we were getting ready to sit on the floor to have our lunch,  I asked to be excused,  she said, “No”.  A few minutes later, she was having to buy lunches for the kids who were unfortunate enough to be sitting near me.  From then on, she never said “No”.   But she also penalized me for it by holding me back and making me go to pre-first, because I guess lacked the maturity and discipline to move on with the rest of my class. That was such a disappointment to me, but after awhile I made new friends, but I never got over feeling as though I wasn’t good enough.

First grade – I’m second from the right, my two best friends on either side. Josie and Evangeline.

Then in second grade.  I was always getting yelled at and I was always crying and  I remember how this teacher could barely look at me and I’d start crying and because she always made me cry, I then got tagged with the moniker “Howling Coyote”.  She must have been pretty intimidating and scary to me for whatever reason. But, I was always in trouble in that class and I can’t remember why.  On the playground, a young roundish Mexican boy name Bobby Gonzalez would be my worst tormentor and others would then follow suit.

Mrs. McConnell, third grade was of Japanese descent married to an American. I remember her name because it didn’t fit her looks.  Behind her back, I recall kids making racial slurs and comments. In retrospect, she was probably as American as I am as well. There was definitely no accent.  She was stern, but I remember learning, the alphabet and how to form my letters properly with her.  In her class is when I would learn to read  so she was okay.  I loved reading and penmanship and because of her and the teacher that followed, I had  beautifully formed letters.  Of course, I know I wasn’t the only one with good penmanship because it was stressed to us in those days. Sadly, this would not continue because as the years have past,  young people today can hardly write cursive at all. I noticed too that girls were generally better than boys at cursive and boys tended to print better.  I knew a few boys who could do both equally well, but that wasn’t the norm. 

I remember my 4th grade teachers vaguely. That year I started out the year in Alabama and finished it in California. My 4th grade teacher had also been my fathers. I think her name was Mrs. Foote. and then I had Mrs. Newman in California. Nothing terribly exciting there except again, Bobby Gonzalez.  He quit calling me “howling coyote” but would tease me about my newly acquired southern drawl, exaggerating it by just calling out “y’all”.  Why he hadn’t noticed my accent before I don’t know other than perhaps it got stronger that year I was away.

School districts were divided and Bobby would be no more until junior high.  These next years were when I remember learning about and growing fond of the library.

My 5th grade teacher was also strict but I’m not sure fair, perhaps she was but I couldn’t tell. I  know I wasn’t a favorite.  Sometimes I thought she liked me fine but at other times not so much.  However, she was the one who discovered I could draw when she asked all the kids to draw a picture for Veterans Day, in addition to writing an essay to go along with it.  She would then enter it in a competition.  I painted a field of poppies on a hill.  Myself and Alex Rapach, a new boy in school, won top honors for our art and essays.  He was a great artist and always knew he would grow up to be an architect. Knowing what I know now about architects, it was no wonder, he was a natural.  During recess, he would make me hanky mice, while I played jacks.  He then taught me how to make them myself, a skill I have long since forgotten, but he was my first crush and because of that I was always trying to keep up.  Until that year I never realized I could be good at drawing or painting. I enjoy them both, but the truth of it is, I’m just okay at it.  I accidentally finish something worthwhile, but it’s rare and those all belong to other people now. Mostly because they loved them, so they were gifted. Whaaat?  Isn’t that what it’s all about?

By 6th grade, our love had faded and then came Miss Brennenstuhl, who would further cultivate my artistic nature. I’m not sure I was liked that well at first because I am a talker, a fault that aggravated all my teachers actually, but we connected through my art, which she encouraged and through music and stories.  She loved reading to us and she did so so well, that I was able to see those stories play out in my mind like I was there with the characters.  Between those two teachers my love for books and reading grew exponentially.  If anything could shut me up, it would be a book. That year I would become lost and feral in Alaska with Buck and I would learn about the trials of Anne Frank for the first time.

What connected us and made Miss Brennenstuhl stand out was dance.  I think I may have really wanted to impress her because one day, I mentioned I had an Arthur Murray Way record on dancing. It came complete with diagrams for foot placement. She asked if I could bring it and I supposed I could and did. I think my mom bought it in hopes dad would learn to dance and maybe take her dancing,  but I believe I was the one who got the most use out of it.

With me as her guinea pig, I say that because the one thing I don’t have is rhythm,  but she was patient with me and she and I would demonstrate to the rest of the class,  the steps to the Samba, the Foxtrot, box step and the Tango.  I was a klutz, but I always got to be the first one to try a new routine with her.  Boy did she light up when she danced and it was thrilling to see.  I was quite tickled and pleased.

Another time, for art class, I drew a huge Bird of Paradise that turned out magnificently. It’s pose was similar to the second photo below but it’s tail spread like the first, it was beautiful if I may say so.  She loved it and hung it up in her classroom for the remainder of the year.  At the end of the school year, she asked if I would mind if she kept it.  I gladly gave it to her and when I went to visit her several years later, it was still up in her room. I don’t know if anyone can relate to this, but she built me up in so many ways.  Most importantly, she proved to me that she hadn’t lied when she said she liked it.  Do you know how that would make a kid who got beat up and knocked around at home feel?  She made me feel valued and that meant the world to me.

Later on, I would look back at the teachers I had and the ones I liked the most were not necessarily the easy going ones, but the ones that had structure.  I remember a teacher that goofed off all the time in class and I nearly failed her class. There were no guidelines, I never felt like I knew what was expected of me.  I remember my boyfriend getting straight A’s in her class, but not me.  He was one of those that never studied either and boy was I surprised when he graduated with honors.

I’m in almost center just above the words “junior”, my best friends to my right. Bobby Gonzalez, thinned out by then and is third boy, upper right. He only rarely teased me by then.

Since then I have figured out, judging by my son that I may have had ADD. I wasn’t stupid, just needing that structure. I remember when we moved to a different area, the school he would have been assigned to would be open concept, a no walls classroom.  So we drove him elsewhere, we knew he would never be able to focus in that environment.  Even to this day, I’m a tell me what you want and don’t beat around the bush kind of girl, because if you don’t make it clear, you can bet, I won’t get it. I’m also the gaze out the window kinda girl, easily distracted. I’ve gotten better, but it wasn’t easy growing up.

If you were to watch me clean house, you’d see that in action. If you remember the diagram of Billy in Family Circus, taking the long way to get from point A to point B?  That’s me. I’m sure I’d make the average person dizzy watching me work.  But… I get the job done and I can be OCD … I like a place for everything and everything its place.

Have a good “Lockdown Day”!  Be kind to someone and give them a call or just say “Hi”

I caught my neighbor outside yesterday and we yakked for awhile.  He lives alone, so imagined he’d be lonely,  so from 40 feet, we talked, keeping our social distance. I think he appreciated it.



The Difference in Boys

I’ve talked at great length about my girls, their tats and other things, but surprisingly said little about my boys.

At the Strawberry Festival in Glenwood Springs

I was extremely more connected to my girls, I will admit that. I got to wondering why that was.

Perhaps it is the fact that boys are just different. As boys they of course have different needs, different from me and different from each other. As any parent can attest, all children are unique. I had mostly sisters and I was the eldest and always in charge. I never really understood my brothers much, plus the youngest two were young enough to be my children, the youngest is only 5 months older than my oldest daughter.  So I didn’t have a great deal of experience with boys.

Party in the Park

Perhaps it was the fact too that I had the luxury of being a stay at home mom with my girls, whereas when the boys father and I divorced they were still young and I had to go to work. It’s not ideal, but that’s how it was.

I remember how much I’d struggled to support them. There was no child support because we had joint custody. His custodial obligation was to maintain insurances and pay for any medical. At least I didn’t have to worry about that.  We lived a block away from one another “for the kids” sake and my home was the one closest to the bus stop so they managed to be at my house more than their dads.

My eldest, Ry, was the most affected by the divorce. He was totally devastated and embarrassed. He had always been so proud that of all his classmates, we were one of only a couple of parents not divorced and he liked that. He was only seven then when he became aware of the difference and he would be nine or ten when we divorced. Even though it was I who left, he didn’t forgive his dad for not being man enough to keep me. We all lost.

It wasn’t until he joined the Marines that he learned to forgive and let me be a part of his life again. God Bless the Marines.

Oh, I did things with him, took him on camping trips, track meets, fishing, hiking, mountain climbing and school functions but it wasn’t enough. There was still this enormous emotional chasm. But I didn’t give up. I bulldozed myself into his life. I did all the things a dad should do with his boys because that’s how I am and his father didn’t.  That was the only leverage I had. Thank goodness I was such an outdoorsy person.  He was outgoing and popular but after a time, he separated himself from his closest friends.

Track meet


Now Ian is a total opposite.

He is not sporty or terribly coordinated. He was also very shy. So shy, he couldn’t even talk on the phone! Terrified if anyone spoke to him.  I know, you’d never guess that by the above pictures.  He spent most of his time hiding behind my “skirt”, afraid of his own shadow. He’s also ADD and fortunately not ADHD. Bright but inattentive or so it would appear. I don’t think a complete diagnosis was ever made clear, but he was delayed developmentally. Today I’m inclined to think it may have been a form Asperger’s.

Ry had a fourth grade teacher that I thought should have retired long ago. She didn’t make over him like all his previous teachers had, so he liked her the least.  Ian was to get her the following year. We dreaded it.

It was she that identified he had a problem. I knew about dyslexia and other learning disabilities and had been around children with ADHD but this was different.  She suggested we have him tested.  She said he couldn’t sit still for a minute, homework was a chore and half the time it appeared he wasn’t paying attention, yet he was learning.  He tested grade 15 in reading, spelling and comprehension but double entendre’s escaped him. He was unable to get jokes yet was extremely intuitive. Science tested out at about grade 8. He was at grade 4 in math which was at grade level and grade 2 in physical abilities. In second grade, his teacher said his delayed motor skills were affecting his learning, but we didn’t know what to do about it. His father was not into any sport other than cycling which he did rarely and that was only because his dad’s business was bicycles. This new teacher loved him though and he bonded with her and at years end they both cried the last day of school. I’m guessing he challenged her and made teaching interesting rather than mundane. That’s the teacher you want for your special needs child.

After that, we kept getting pressure to medicate, which I was totally against. Ritalin was relatively new on the market and I didn’t want my son to be a guinea pig. As it is, they did find years later many young people succumbed to it’s negative effects including drug addiction*. “the government classifies the psychoactive drug (Ritalin) with cocaine and morphine because it is highly addictive.”**

Ian and I bonded more for the same reason his teacher had, his needs demanded more. I was also closer to Ian in many other ways as well. He was extremely affectionate and we liked the same things. Both boys have amazing voices but only Ian seemed to like singing. I like singing. We connected further when I told my acting coach how shy he was and she suggested letting her help.

With acting Hollywood coach Molli Benson
Climbing a mountain near Ouray

She started out running lines with him in the back of the room. Eventually they worked their way to the front.  Not all at once of course, but a little at a time.  He was 12. Eventually, he got so good that after playing a scene from Moonstruck where he was Nicholas Cage, she yelled at the rest of the men in her class and said,

“That is how it’s done! This kid at 14 convinced me he wanted to take me to bed and, I know he didn’t mean it.”  Everyone was silent. But, that’s acting and he was darn good at it.

On the left playing opposite him is Nick Wechsler from the show “Revenge” when both were just kids. Nick is about four years older.

Both boys could be quite funny. Ry more than Ian but it was rare they were funny together.

A photo I told them was a do over
so, they hammed it up

Once Ian was singled out as “different”, Ry pulled away from his brother and even became his arch enemy adding insult to injury by parroting his peers, which only brought Ian and I even closer together.  This he regretted later.   Kids called Ian “dummy” even though he was smarter than they were and  the popular kids especially picked on him. To make their life easier we sent them to different schools. Ry could do his sports in public school and Ian would go to a private school for awhile. There he actually fit in and found friends. He could do his artsy things and not have to worry about being compared to his brother. It took a load off Ry as well. I don’t think he meant to be mean, he didn’t know or understand his brother’s special needs, but then neither did we. Today they are fine.

To be fair Ry had begun to have his own issues to contend with. His deciduous teeth had not fallen out on their own and his adult teeth were crowding in on top. Some refer to it as “popcorn teeth”. It was one more nail on the coffin for him. By ten he began the process of tooth extractions and years of orthodontia and the once gorgeous, confident kid felt like a freak. Add the physical pain that went with it and his inability to eat comfortably, he withdrew from his friends and hooked up with a neighbor kid from the wrong side of the tracks. His home life was a revolving door for drinking, drugs and who knows what else, so the company his mom kept left much to be desired.  But, his friend liked to fish, so they went fishing all the time.

Fishing on the Mesa

I felt like I never saw him, but it kept him busy and it gave him so much joy plus he was good at it. The “kid” was basically a good kid and he was always polite, so I figured maybe being around us could help him but I still sensed trouble, not right away but eventually. Because of that I kept my mom radar up and was always on alert. As signs were realized, my greatest fear was affirmed. Drugs. Mostly, but not just pot. For all my intent, it was a friend of ours who actually spotted it first.

We then put him on notice. No more friend. Drug tests would be at random intervals and he wouldn’t know when.  At first he balked and angrily fought me on it and yes I hit him well, slapped him. I was in a rage, frustrated and devastated but not certain at what or at whom. I had always vowed I would never do anything out of anger, yet anger did get the best of me. When I saw Nick’c mom from “Fear The Walking Dead” go after her druggy son, I understood. The emotions are complex, I felt helpless but mostly I felt so guilty. I’d let him down with the divorce and I felt guilty about Ian. I think too that out of all that his parents suddenly unite against him. He eventually acquiesced. In truth, I think he was actually relieved. I felt so sorry for him. So many things had gone wrong – his teeth, the friends he no longer had, a brother he didn’t understand, his broken family and he’s lost and perhaps afraid. Everything that could be wrong in his life, was and he was overwhelmed.

Finally and I believe it was God’s intervention, but he met a classmate at school that brought it all together. They started lifting weights and Ry started going to church with the boys family.  All Ry ever talked about was how this couple had married young and were still married and what an amazing family they were. More guilt. We didn’t exist for him. I remained guarded and I was jealous but I would swallow my pride because at least he wasn’t on drugs.

My heart couldn’t have been more broken. I wanted him to feel that way about us. I wanted us to be a family.

I knew he wanted to go to college but I couldn’t afford to send him to school and his dad said he couldn’t afford it either. Rys grades were good, but not good enough for scholarships although they might have been had he not gotten waylay-ed. His friend, the young fishing friend joined the army and Ry races home one day and announces he’d joined the Marines.

Interestingly, I believe all that history made Ry a better Marine. He wanted to do something that was punishing yet redeeming. At least that was how I saw it. When he completed his training, he came out forgiving and loving his family more than I could have hoped for. He said, the Marines taught him that family comes first. He still loves his surrogate family but he now included us in his world.

Ry was not a big guy so he had to fight to get and stay in. His DI’s told me at his graduation that they had not expected him to make it, but he did where others had failed. They said he had inspired them and everyone else in his platoon. I could not have been more proud. I remembered his track coach saying the same thing. “Not the best but certainly the most enduring.” His drill instructors bestowed upon him their own globe and anchor, the highest honor a recruit could receive from his superior officers. He was applauded for his tenacity and determination.


Because he had scored so high on the aptitude tests, they singled him out for embassy duty. In the meantime the Iraqi war had begun and we thought he’d have to go. For sure they would send him to Iraq. Surprisingly they didn’t.

At one point he said he was unsure he’d make the cut because of the drug incident.  After several interviews and psychiatric evals they asked the big D question. His saving grace was that he didn’t lie.  We all worried and waited. Finally, he got word. They told him normally that would have prevented him from being accepted as a candidate but they appreciated more than anything his honesty. They had conferred with his DI’s and other superior officers he’d worked with and came back with his acceptance. Next step was off to Quantico for the CIA training all MSG’s must pass.  His training was grueling but he made it. They outfitted them all with variations of the same wardrobe, looking pretty much like clones. Boy did he look handsome though. They ran more background checks  but now of the entire family before his selection was complete.

Ironically, my brother, who also works on high security clearance projects was due for his series of background checks. So our family and friends were hit with simultaneous  scrutiny. Our closest neighbor approached us one day and teasingly asked us, “What in the hell have you all been into?!” This is one occasion where they do check. No worries, we’re good.  We cleared them all. He would later get pulled from his post in Kiev to secure the grounds and guard the president for the NATO summit. What an honor!

Ry is now out of the military. With the GI bill, he was able to graduate college and is now a father of three, two of his own and a foster child they will be adopting. He also has a child recently diagnosed with mild autism, smart like Ian but with learning issues.  He is three and Ry loves him to death. Fortunately, he married to a young lady who is a teacher that just happens to specialize in children with special needs. I think now too, Ry not only because he is older and wiser and remembering his own shortcomings dealing with his brother,  he will no doubt redeem himself with his son. Until the adoption is formalized, I cannot include a family picture as foster children are protected by HIPPA.

Ian as Joseph

Over the years Ian has bounced around living with various family members.  His dad, sister and us and for a brief time attempted to live on his own but failed at it miserably. When he came to live with us for awhile, he and I did dramas at church. Our church loved hearing him sing so he was frequently asked to perform and occasionally we’d sing duets together. Despite his trepidation, he always came through magnificently.   At 33, he is now finally on his own for the first time in his life.  He is attending Full Sail University off and on and still has difficulty staying on task but he’s doing better.  He was studying gaming and digital animation but may reevaluate his major in that. It’s the learning that challenges him the most. He has an on and off again girl friend who seems to be extremely patient with him and seems to be motivating him to find his niche. His mind still wanders but he’s exploring art and finding he does it well. Even so, he’s an awesome young man. They both are and I love them immensely.

Ryan doing the Lewa Marathon while stationed in Nairobi, competing with barefoot Kenyans. The group picture is Ry with a Peace Corp group he met and with fellow Marines that also love to run. He also got to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro while stationed there which is 19,340 feet high. He says it was grueling and at times wasn’t sure he’d get to the top, but he did. Of course.

High School Graduation

Ian and I at High School graduation and a before and after moving out on his own and getting fit. The last being Ian today.






(Just so you know, when I blogged this the spacing went crazy-not me)

The most frequently unanswered question is “Why?” Why do you think that is?  Is it because no one wants to really consider the answer?

I believe it a product of the superficial world we live in. No one wants to take the time to teach or figure out the why.  Yet, as I read the propounding of so many of my fellow bloggers, isn’t that the point of their self expression?

As I consider my own meanderings, I have to say most of it has to do with trying to understand why.  Why do people do the things they do?  Why do they delight in hurting one another?  In hurting the innocent? Do they even know why?  Sadly many don’t. People in general don’t even take themselves serious enough to analyze motive.

Yet, how are we with our children or grandchildren?  It’s okay to say “I don’t know…”, but how much better to follow it with, “but let’s find out.” Just think about it, it means taking “time”, that many people are too busy to do.

My muse today came from my daughter Andy.  I think I need to get her into blogging, but I decided to add my own “Why’s” because even after all these years I still recall how when I asked “Why”, my father responded with, “Children should be seen and not heard”. Sad.


I’m stealing the following from my youngest daughter’s Facebook page: Andrea in cockpit

“When I was a kid they taught math in stages. The teacher says there is a rule and to just do it. They promised that you’ll understand it later. And then there’s that one kid who, me, who insists on knowing why.

No matter how much my teachers swore I didn’t need the WHY, they were wrong. I did.

I changed majors in college to avoid further math because I could not find a professor willing to explain to me WHY.

That semester I found that one teacher. I told him I had changed my major over math issues.

He hung his head low and said, “I wish I could have had you when you first got here.”

I asked him, “Why?”

He said, “Because it matters. The WHY matters. And too many people stop asking. And too many teachers stop teaching. And too many WHY’s go unanswered.”

I understand why teachers taught that way. It’s the same in many things we learn. Baby steps. It’ll all come together.

But some of us, not many, have the ability to see the whole picture and choose to work the puzzle one piece at a time anyway.

Knowing the details doesn’t mean you have to get stuck in them.”

It was interesting to me that her teacher would fail abominably and not answer her question.
I was more fortunate than she, because I remember a girl in my math class saying, she didn’t understand why she needed it and I will never forget his answer.
He said, the world is a composed of math. Everything is a result of some equation. Our bodies are a composition of matter which varies from person to person based on their size and weight.
1/Db = w/Dw + f/Df + p/Dp + m/Dm 
Db = overall body density, w = proportion of water, f = proportion of fat, p = proportion of protein, m = proportion of mineral, Dw = density of water, Df = densityof fat, Dp = density of protein, Dm = density of mineral

Maybe that was a bit too deep, because she responds with...
"Okay, so?", she says.  "I'm just going to get married and have kids. I don't need math."

I looked around as I observed other girls, nodding in agreement. (That many thought that was all there was to life?) 

He smiled patiently and went on and broke it down even moresimply. "You will need to cook, won't you? and clean?"  
housewife workShe says, "Yes."  

"Well, what if you have a recipe for 6 people but there are only three or maybe four of you? Or better yet, a large group of 15 or 20?" 
She shrugs.  
"You will need to know how to divide and subtract and multiply that recipe to feed them."
He let that sink in.

Then he illustrated other ways math is used in day to day wifely duties and ended with, "Math is used in everything" 

My point is, this teacher took the time to get his student back into the game.
I will say this about him. Even though there were things I didn't like about this teacher,(he was always promoting his own political agenda's) I did like the fact that he didn't blow her off and cared enough to take the time needed to explain and answer her "Why." 

Answering the "why" doesn't apply always to answering other people's why.  What about your "why"?  
Are you answering or finding your own?