Friday, January 22, 2016

snap

Just when winter lulled us into thinking it would be mild and easy, we got the ol' one-two arctic blast punch to the gut. Today I came home from work and running errands to do the Friday night chores. Then I went to the garage to get the very last Ale Asylum Madtown Nut Brown Ale. It's taking me a while to drink it because it's mostly frozen.

I'm really not looking forward to filling the bird feeders tomorrow.

Mr. D is busy getting fit since it's January. I got him one of those fitness wristbands for Christmas and he calculates his daily steps like my students calculate their final exam scores. I also bought one of those NutriBullets. Pulverized fruit and vegetables are part of our new daily diet. It's pretty easy to use and clean, which is nice. It's not a bad thing that we're getting a daily quadruple-dose of fruits and veg. As a consequence, I've shed a couple pounds and feel a bit more energetic. I mentally mocked these gadgets for years, thinking they were a lazy way out of eating healthy. As it happens, I am more prone to eating kale if it's mashed up and ingest-able through a straw. Turns out chewing was the real barrier between me and a more nutritious diet. Who knew? 

Across the River is with a book designer now, but here's a sneak peek of my author photo on the back cover:
That's me, about age 5, behind the bar in my grandparents' basement, circa nineteen-seventy-something. It seemed fitting since one of the main characters in the book is a bartender.

Check out this link! I discovered today that Mr. T's Eagle Scout boardwalk project is visible from above!  Pretty cool, huh?

Mr. G brought home some work in his backpack the other day and I got concerned when I saw this:
"-2 for the inappropriate bloody sword"
I felt apprehensive flipping the page over, but you can imagine my relief when I saw this:
Just your average Darth Vader turkey drawing. Turns out not everyone is as well-versed in Jedi-speak. Bloody sword. Harumph. I didn't go raging to his teacher, though. It's only 2 points. Instead I hung it on the fridge next to other great accomplishments by Team Testosterone, like Mr. T's first (and only) noon detention (for being late to class without a pass--another B.S. moment, but also a battle not worth fighting). My kids are just bad-ass, aren't they?

To help get through the grind of mid-year (and mid-winter, too), the AP kids in Room 212 are studying humor. I got to introduce them to David Sedaris (dark!) and The Onion (satire!) and Jen Lancaster (sarcasm!) last week. This week they'll meet Steve Martin (wit!), Nora Ephron (observational!), Birdbox (absurd!)and Robert Redford (parody!). The grand finale in a couple weeks is Jonathan Swift because everyone should know A Modest Proposal (although some of the current suggestions from politicians strike me as so outrageous that I fear the kids might not perceive the satire).

My beer is nearly thawed out, so I'll wrap up this post with a thematically appropriate joke: Why does no one eat Wookie meat? 

It's a little Chewie.



Wednesday, December 30, 2015

same old, almost new

Finally the snow came and I eagerly put on my new (used) ski boots and discovered after much stomping and pounding and fiddling around that they don't fit my skis. I forged a trail through the woods anyway and returned home with blisters up the backs of both ankles from my old boots. What a conundrum--do I get new (used) skis to match the boots or return the boots and try to find a new (used) pair of boots to match the skis? 


In other news, everyone here is healthy. Mr. T's swallow test revealed nothing abnormal, so now we're trying something else to help him swallow better since no diagnosis can be made.  It's the weirdest thing, but it usually is something weird with him. 

I began Fates and Furies and had a hard time putting it down to go to sleep last night. It's one of those books that grips right away.  My favorite author discovered this past year is Fredrik Backman. Go read him immediately.

This is the first Christmas break that I haven't undertaken a big project like painting a room. The only extraordinary thing I did was clean out and wipe down the bathroom drawers and cupboards. I threw out one of two eye shadows I own, I never wear either so why didn't I throw out both? A mystery. I mercilessly pitched a bottle of massage oil (received as a gift a decade ago, never used--who would use such a thing?), fancy bath scrub (scares me--very perfumey and suspicious texture), samples packages of hair product and old nail files. I need to clean out my library, but that's going to take about a week, so I'll wait until summer vacation.

Tomorrow ends the year and instead of looking back I'm thinking of what's coming up.  Visiting relatives. Wrestling for Mr. B, tournament team basketball for Mr. G, a neighborhood party.  Monday brings a new unit for English 12 (The Crucible! Can you imagine how one might possibly teach about hysteria and propaganda in a post-communist age? So many modern-day parallels abound...missing birth certificates and climate change, Planned Parenthood and Muslim refugees. And to think I felt I was "settling" on this play because it was one of the few books I had enough copies to teach!)  I'll be back to scheduling my bathroom breaks around the bell and wearing shoes all day.

Tonight I'll sit in my favorite spot and drink what remains of my Christmas treat after watching Mr. B and Mr. G play their last basketball games of 2015.

What's better than a recliner? A hammock. Okay, this is my second-favorite spot to read.

Half and half heated on the stove, poured into a mug. Inhale. Sip.
I hope your end of 2015 is peaceful and comfortable, too.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

noel

As part of making the place look festive I have these cut-out letters spelling Christmas words strung around our ceilings. "Emmanuel" and "Prince of Peace." The other morning Mr. B looked up while eating his breakfast and asked, "Who's 'Leon?'"  Depending on where you sit, the words don't make any sense because you're looking at them backwards.




That's true of Christmas, too. You see, if you're looking at this baby born and laid in a feed trough a couple thousand years ago in a little town named Bethlehem through the eyes of someone who doesn't believe in God or feel the need for any kind of salvation because we humans are the top of the food chain and know all of the answers and heaven is a place for people who haven't done anything too bad--like, say murder someone or whatever--then that baby might as well be named Leon or Fred or Hunter or Derek and what's the point of celebrating this kid's birthday more than the birthday of any other baby.

But if you look at the baby with the right perspective--we humans are desperately flawed and can't make it right on our own, we are created for a purpose and are loved by that creator and the only way for us to approach a 100% holy God is through some gift of mercy and grace, then Jesus come to earth in human form on Christmas makes perfect sense. He was born and killed to cover the penalty of sin through death, so when you put them together, Christmas and Easter add up.

It's about perspective. For believers, Christmas is the best possible gift and the love behind this gift of a Messiah brings us to our knees and drives us to weep tears of gratitude because through Him we enjoy a relationship with God that previously wasn't possible. For everyone else, Christmas is a holiday centered on the idea of people doing what they can to slap a band aid on a screwed up world--at least for a couple weeks out of the year. That kind of pressure on ourselves to make it perfect all alone can be stressful and daunting and even depressing.

I hope, dear reader, you enjoy a Christmas of joy and hope and peace.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

festive

Where does the time go between posts? I swear, I feel like I'm on top of every last detail, then I step back and the whole mess of life explodes and I find myself swamped again. I guess it's like this, once a month I climb to the top of the heap, find enough time to write a cogent thought or two, disappear again for another month. Now I look up and discover it's the end of the first week of December, the throes of holiday madness.

This weekend I'm down a couple people in my household, Mr. D and Mr. G are in Indianapolis cheering for the Hawkeyes and living the dream in black and gold. Go Hawks! Mr. B's been sick and missed two whole days of school. I actually took him to see a doctor. Turns out his strep and mono tests were negative but whatever ails him is a bugger to kick. Mr. T's having a hard time swallowing, so we've done a scope, another doctor visit and head back to do a swallow study this week, which makes me feel like a bird enthusiast when I say "swallow study." Consequently, my work day has been chunked up with appointments and running home at lunch to check on my baby. Not ideal, but I only live 2 miles from work which helps.

This illness and football excitement got scattered among the usual routine of practices, games, church, grading papers, grocery shopping. It feels a bit like heaven this weekend to have nothing scheduled for the next two days. I can catch up on editing my novel and writing the annual Christmas letter and decorating. Last night the remaining bachelors and I ate popcorn and apple crisp for supper while watching Home Alone and Christmas Vacation and I started this:

WORDS is the theme this year.

Words on all the places.

Happy words.
The biggest news is how Christmas came early this past week when Mr. D bought us a brand-new clothes dryer! Our 20-year old dryer was making a horrible shrieking sound as metal bearings scraped against the drum with every rotation. It was migraine-inducing to dry a load of clothes, and every drying cycle would take at least 3 hours. This issue was largely avoidable until it got too cold to use the clotheslines outside (oh, I tried, but it turns out wet clothes only freeze and then must be taken in to thaw out and then dry. I felt like Ma frickin' Ingalls and it sucked).  I'd taken to hanging our laundry across every wood banister, railing and chair back in the house, and with 5 people this meant we had clothes drying like this at least 5 days a week. Every day this past month I came home and it looked like this inside:

Not exactly what Martha Stewart would call decorative.
But now we have this amazing new appliance that has an actual door handle. No longer do I require a butter knife to pry open the door to load in the clothes. I can run the clothes dryer and talk on the phone at the same time because it's remarkably quiet! A load of laundry gets dry within forty minutes! This means I can FINISH ALL THE HOUSEHOLD LAUNDRY IN A SINGLE DAY! No longer do I have to spend every spare minute checking the drying wash around my house and swap out dry jeans across the chair backs for a fresh wet load of t-shirts. Doing wash has actually become FUN again. The sheer ease of this weekly chore has added a spring to my step and a sparkle to my eye. Plus, the laundry isn't all over my house anymore.

Those who tell you it's the little things in life are wrong. It's the BIG things, my friends. Big things like new appliances. My heart belongs to you, Mr. Maytag.

It's so shiny and unscratched and pretty!


With all this extra time on my hands thanks to a new clothes dryer (which uses more air circulation and less heat as well as a sensor to automatically turn off once the load is dry), I'm going to finish the annual Christmas letter, edit my manuscript for the eleventy-billionth time and shut the toilet lid so Rose quits splashing around in it (weirdo cat). I might even eat healthier, start exercising regularly and floss more. This experience has been life-changing.

Spill it, reader. What's making you feel festive these days?

Saturday, November 21, 2015

offspring

Confession: for the first half of my life I couldn't imagine having kids. In this second half I can't imagine life without the little buggers. They're goofy, messy, affectionate, interesting and entertaining. This morning I watched all of them tromp towards the woods decked out in blaze orange, together as they often are.  It amazes me how much they like to hang out with each other. It amazes me more how much they like to hang out around Mr. D and me.

long limbs sprawled across couches: a portrait of adolescence.
I adore these easy years of motherhood, we rarely quarrel and I'm free of the back-breaking labor of earlier years. My offspring are house-trained for the most part now, able to self-serve in many ways and capable of pitching in with chores. Mostly I feed them, wash their laundry and engage in conversations about everything under the sun, from sports to religion to politics.

give a boy a screen and he won't move for the whole morning.
Recently they invented a game with note cards and a cardboard box. They wrote random words on the cards and draw them out in turns, giggling at the results. "Bald, evil, Chinese superhero." The oldest son is a little bossy, the youngest too competitive and clingy, the middle a bit hard-headed, but they complement each other, bending and accommodating each other's quirks. They wisely give each other space and grace as needed, never bearing a grudge.

shamelessly silly.
At the grocery store Mr. G will remind me to grab a Peace Tea for his oldest brother, because that's Mr. T's favorite. Mr. T will call Mr. B over to check out something new on Terraria, Mr. B reminds Mr. G to grab his praise-and-worship t-shirt for Thursday's performance at liturgy and advises him to keep it in his locker afterwards so he doesn't forget it.  Mr. B asks Mr. T about high school stuff, tapping his older brother's experience and wisdom. I was never close to my sister like my sons are with each other, their deep affection amazes me. They're so confident in their place, so secure knowing we have enough love to go around, that they don't compete for anything.

They make me proud. The report cards look good and we receive regular complements on their behavior.  Mr. T is trustworthy and possesses courage and sly humor. Mr. B never met a person he didn't turn into a friend and he has a million-and-twenty-three plans he's working on executing at any given minute. Mr. G is freakishly athletic and wicked smart.

I'm thankful for these great kids, for their common sense and intelligence and fantastic logic. Two days ago on our way to school and I reminded them I'd pick them up early because we had an appointment to process our passports.
Team Testosterone: We should go to Paris for vacation! 

Me: Okay. Why Paris?
Team Testosterone: Because they just got attacked, so statistically the odds are they're not going to be attacked twice. Plus, since they got attacked, security is tighter than ever so it's probably safer than ever.
Me: Good point.
Team Testosterone: And we bet a lot of people won't go there now because they're scared, so we'd probably get a great deal. Like half-price.
Me: You're probably right. 
Team Testosterone: Is the Eiffel Tower open? We'd really like to see that.

I dropped them off feeling pretty proud some of me has rubbed off on them. My offspring. I thank God for the gift of them every day.



Saturday, November 7, 2015

work

It's Thanksgiving month, a season and holiday I can really get behind. I've hung the boys' handprint turkeys from their early childhood around our house and propped up the bulletin board by the fireplace for them to write on construction paper leaves all that they feel thankful for. My head is down and I ignore the squawk of commercials telling me we need more. We have plenty. More than enough. We're taking this season to act grateful.

You see, we enjoy running water (hot and cold) and a well-insulated house with the luxury of in-floor heating. Our vehicles run, our appliances make life easier, we have friends and activities and a lovely view out the back window.  We rarely stop and recognize all this wealth.

My colleagues are a fun group of people, guaranteed to make me laugh at least once a day and support me in any request I make of them. They freely share advice and sympathy.  I am blessed to work with rock stars in the teaching profession, passionate and dedicated people. Our building isn't anything to brag about, but what happens in our cinder block cells reflects really well on what great teachers can do without the latest and greatest resources at their fingertips.

The freedom I enjoy with the curriculum is terrific. People can hate on Common Core all they want, but I love it. The old Wisconsin State Standards were ridiculous (Students should write with pen and pencil--seriously? nit-picky and stupid). Under the new guidelines I do legit teaching--read Founding Brothers and decide which founding brother was the best using the text as support--read The Crucible and argue which character behaved the worst. I'm not told exactly what to teach, I only have to achieve specific outcomes, the HOW is up to me.  The emphasis on higher-level thinking and writing skills is up my alley as a teacher and I'm having a blast developing both English 12 and AP Language & Composition.

My students are mostly delightful (there are always a couple exceptions in any class, but even those kids aren't the worst). Third hour in particular always makes me smile. This weird mash-up of seniors respect each other and encourage each other every day. A popular student council member and state wrestling qualifier will swap out work with a special needs student and they treat each other as equals. A loudmouth cowboy and a foreign exchange student learn from each other. These kids think and make observations about literature and writing and care about the hour we spend together. I adore them. Plus they made up a sign-up sheet and take turns bringing in food for the whole class to share. I don't have to do anything but enjoy how well they get along and learn with one another.  I merely facilitate the hour, which is what every teacher ultimately aspires to do.

My principal sent me to a conference and I returned with my head full of new ideas to try. I learned from every person I met at this conference and enjoyed a day of not being in charge. Bonus: Panera catered the event, breakfast and lunch.

The AP students are crushing it this year. We've got all kinds of good stuff happening on the writing front and on the discussion end. No one's overwhelmed, they're all in that sweet spot of feeling challenged enough. Two hours of bright kids with big ideas and insightful questions. What a dream.  I feel good about this year's test scores.

Parents care, too. I saw almost 70% of my students' parents at conferences last week, and had positive contact with all of them. How marvelous to work in a school district where students have families really invested and involved in their education. Amazingly, I even had contact with every parent I wanted to see. (That usually doesn't happen.)

Sure, my right shoulder and elbow are sore from sitting cramped over grading papers. Yes, the cursed copy machine throws the occasional curve ball at my lesson plans. The paperwork can devastate our souls, Room 212 is windowless and chilly, and I swear drunk monkeys made out the schedule. But the stuff that really matters at work is good and great and I'm thankful for it.

Spill it, reader. What are the good things at your job?

Monday, October 19, 2015

fall five

Patience wrote my favorite post about fall ever.  Go read it. Fall's my least favorite season for many reasons (mostly because it's not spring or summer), but since it's Monday and October, I'm keeping my crabby rant short and snappy.
Green Girl, Mr. T and Mr G picking apples many years ago. Apples are one thing I like about fall. Football and the colors are the two other things.

1. My skin breaks out in a weird rash when I carve pumpkins. I can eat pumpkin without effect, but my skin cannot touch any part of a pumpkin plant except the cold, hard outer shell of the squash. And as Patience points out, "pumpkin" anything in fall is really not pumpkin, it's spices, and that type of deliberate mislabeling irritates me.
2. I live in Wisconsin and it's getting colder and colder and colder. Which means closing windows and doors on the great outdoors.
3. Sure, it's pretty outside, but have I mentioned how it's getting colder? Chapped hands, chapped lips, red runny nose COLD.
4. Short days and long nights equals depression and fatigue.
5. Everything takes longer because boots and jackets and gloves and soon it will take even longer because snow.

I get that fall is this big novelty season for other people who are all Yay! I get to wear a scarf and boots and inhale cinnamon! but for someone who has to actually wear said scarf and boots almost half the year out of necessity I say %&*! you, FALL! You suck!