Saturday, March 14, 2015

feeling a bit like julie andrews when she's twirling in circles singing about hills being alive

When I take stock today, I find myself feeling pretty giddy about life.  What's going on? All kinds of sweetness and goodness!

*My bedsheets smell like fresh air because I'm using clotheslines and it's only the middle of March.
*It has been over 60 degrees ALL WEEK LONG, and it's only the middle of March!
*Basketball is done for Team Testosterone, and now it's track and baseball season AT LAST. No more sitting in bleacher seats in gymnasiums all weekend long. 
*Mr. D's mom is on the mend.  Long story, but a happy ending.  Mr. D's stress level is reduced and he'll be back from Iowa tomorrow night.
*Windows are WASHED and screens are ON--it's only the middle of March, but my house smells a gazillion times better and Jax feels like he's part of our family again because of open doors and windows, too.

*I met the loveliest people this morning at a retirement community where I taught a little course on creative writing.  They had the best stories about living through the Great Depression and WWII, I sure enjoyed meeting them. The facility was gorgeous and offered every amenity imaginable. 
*I teach some senior girls who are totally gnarly feminists with cool ideas and big plans.  They make me want to sing.
*Lunch out with my boys, watching Wisconsin beat Purdue, enough cheese curds for everyone and the waitress complementing me on their fine manners when we left.
*Hair metal in the Momvan--and Team Testosterone knows the words AND when to break into air guitar/drum solos. 

* I have a son who sings to himself because he's happy and feeling fine. On a school day.  No fooling.
* Wrestling champions at Happyland High. They worked hard and won first place at state and now they are done cutting weight and much more pleasant to be around. And they do homework, too. Even their faces have plumped out a bit, one boy showed up first hour with a family pack of cookies and a soda. I couldn't even be irritated because for the first time all season he arrived before the bell rang.
*A friend gave us the heads up on a hunters safety course so we're able to get Mr. B licensed before baseball season gets under way.  Really nice of him to think of us.

*Walking around barefoot outside and it's only the middle of March.
*Wickedly creative book projects from some of my English 12 students.
*Running outside with sunshine on my face in the evening and my knee isn't acting like vicious.
*Praying for energy to teach Cubbies on Tuesday nights after teaching high school all day--and always receiving it. Doesn't make sense, but I walk out filled up instead of spent. God is amazingly powerful.

*Hearing the kids play outside together, roaming around on their bicycles and making big plans for summer break.
*Spending Friday night parked in front of back-to-back-to-back episodes of Modern Family, belly laughing with my sons.
*Catching up with friends I haven't seen in a while, including a few unexpected encounters.
*Mud tracks.  A sure sign of spring around here.  And robins.

Spill it, reader.  What's making your heart sing these days?


© 2014 Melissa Westemeier All Rights Reserved


Saturday, March 7, 2015

sad loss

We are fortunate to live among some of the best people, and one of them died a little over a week ago.  Our neighbor J lived in the low-slung, well-kept ranch in front of our house with his wife, a couple so sweet you first questioned if they were for real, but then after your teeth ached because of their sweetness, you gradually accepted and appreciated that they were, in fact, the real deal.

When we called the number to ask about the property where we eventually built our house, J answered the phone.  After determining that we were not developers, interested in parceling out the acreage into a subdivision, J invited us out to take a look.  J, his sister (our other neighbor) and the rest of their siblings gave us a really nice deal on the family's farmstead.  He took a slice of the property to even out the edges of his lot and we promised to be the best kind of neighbor.

Instead, J proved to be the best kind of neighbor. When the big trucks came to dig our basement he took pictures and mailed them to us. When we moved in, he and his dear wife brought a plate of home-baked goodies and dandled Mr. T on their knees.  They welcomed us into the fold and helpfully watched Mr. T and his brothers during the occasional parent-teacher conference or school program.

J is the reason I have a raspberry patch, he brought over enough canes to grow the berries to make all the jam I ever want.  He and his wife also gifted us our entire slope of day lilies, in every wonderful shade of burgundy and orange and red and yellow. A fellow gardener, we watched J shape his own back yard, planting apple trees and picking tomatoes for home-made salsa. He was generous with his garden, always ready to talk about the finer points of keeping slugs away and what birds were frequenting his bird feeders.

We have a standing joke in our neighborhood about the night the cops showed up because a neighbor heard gunshots.  Of course the police came straight to our house, we were the new people on the block. Mr. D told the police it wasn't us shooting a gun, and after he was pressed to point a finger, he reluctantly pointed it towards J's house.  The next morning a sheepish J stood on our front stoop with a bag full of fresh picked beans and an apology.  Raccoons were fighting on their back deck, he'd shot at them to scare them off.  We laughed for years about the original Pa Ingalls, killing varmints and someone even gave him a taxidermied raccoon as a gag gift one Christmas.  J never lived that down.

He was quick with a joke, he had a deep and rumbling kind of laugh and the biggest, whitest smile. J was a fit man, always busy with a project, enjoying fishing and hunting and his garden.  He and his wife would often walk the trails, Mr. D mowed them a little access path to encourage their enjoyment of the prairie and woods.  J and his wife rounded out our little neighborhood of four families, the oldest on our block.  With them at the helm, we four couples had every stage of life represented--retired, new empty-nesters, married with children and newlyweds.  At our annual Christmas gathering, J would always have a sly joke up his sleeve, delivered with a twinkle in his eye. He doted on his wife, putting every husband on the block to shame with his chivalry.

One winter Mr. B and Mr. G shot a rabbit and they brought it to J, who said he'd use it to make stew.  The following summer they brought him another rabbit, not knowing how nasty a rabbit smells and tastes in summertime.  J kindly chopped off the feet instead, and sent our young hunters home feeling satisfied anyway.

But the most special thing about J was how he and Mr. G cultivated a friendship.  Mr. G would often detour to their house after school, hanging out with J in their garden, playing ping pong with him in their basement rec room.  I worried that we was under foot and annoying, but J assured me that Mr. G was a welcome visitor any time. They liked having him around to talk to and dote on and Mr. G LOVED J. He became a surrogate grandfather, handing down wisdom, advice, and gentle affection.  On one particular day Mr. G asked J for help on a book project for school.  J drew the most amazing horse, wall-sized on a sheet of butcher paper.  Atop that horse, he helped Mr. G draw a headless horseman.  That project graced the school's hallway, then Mr. G's bedroom wall and now is curled in a roll in his closet, a wonderful reminder of J's artistry and friendship.

When Mr. G's picture appeared in the paper, J would clip it out and send it over. J and his wife mailed Mr. G birthday cards and celebrated him like their own grandchild. J always had time to visit with Mr. G, his wife would stuff Mr. G full of cookies and together they gave my youngest child a place to feel alone and cherished and special.

We're going to miss our neighbor--his deep rumbling laugh, his slightly stooped figure dipping between the pepper plants to fill a bag with produce, his friendly face at the town hall where he volunteered on every election day. J was a class act, a gentleman with a gentle, kind heart. We ache for his wife, alone after being by his side since high school when they became sweethearts--a marriage that lasted almost 6 decades. We count ourselves lucky that we have a small piece of his legacy, though, held in our memories, growing in our garden and rolled up in the corner of Mr. G's bedroom closet.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

elastic

Stretching thinner and thinner here. A long, cloudy winter with mediocre snow and frigid temps has everyone acting snappish. Mr. T has rubber bands on his braces now and I seem to find those blasted little circles every two feet.  Mr. B is wrestling like a boss this season, and because of back to back meets this week and nobody around to do his laundry in a timely manner, his singlet will be stinky tonight.  I still cannot quite get used to the "required uniform" (fellow teens from the 80's, did you get that clever reference? I say it constantly these days), it's so tight and, well, clingy.  However, he's way more comfortable wearing it than Mr. T ever was. Mr. G is his typical rubber self, bouncing from activity to activity with more vim and vigor than a room full of toddlers drinking Mountain Dew.  I wish I could bottle whatever he's got running through his veins and take a swig twice a day.

Teaching pulls every last ounce of energy out of me. Can blood vessels be tired? Toenails? Eyebrows?  I believe so.  Happyland High is a good school.  A bit understaffed and underfunded (I know! Shocking to hear about a public school lacking!) but my co workers are phenomenal, supportive people. My students are mostly good, though verging on apathetic as they reach the end of their senior year.  I'm pleased with the amount of freedom I have to develop a curriculum and we've had more hits than misses so far this year. But oh dear did I forget how emotionally tapped out the gig makes me feel.  My students aren't even particularly needy or weird, but teaching 6.5 out of an 8 period day makes me really sick of answering questions and responding and even talking. Then I come home and Mr. G needs help with homework and Mr. T is bored (which makes me annoyed and point out to him all the possible things he might do to be helpful, but none of them are fun for a teenaged boy, you know). I drop my bag, kick off my boots and roll up my sleeves for the second shift--the dinner and dropping off at practice and dishes and such.

That last bit explains the silence around here lately.  Plenty is going on, but I haven't a whole lot to say.  I'm still tethered to Henry David Thoreau for a couple more weeks with the AP students, trying so hard to get them to appreciate solitude and silence and nature (incidentally, three things I wish I had more time to enjoy). I kicked the tires on a few seed catalogs but haven't ordered anything yet. I went to the big gala fundraiser for the boys' school last weekend and failed miserably and utterly at getting any auction items I bid on--except for a cedar bench. My knee is still somewhat inflamed and a recent attempt at upping the dose of my meds went badly.  It seemed to be improving, but not anymore. My hair needs a trim. The clothes dryer is making a wretched sound when we use it. Rose is into everything--houseplants and dirt and toilets and garbage, making her one of the worst free-range pets in the history of all pets.

Mr. D and I have had a few skirmishes. Nothing major, just sniping at each other about politics and youth sports and how we should spend our limited free time. In so many ways these are glory years, three kids who are pretty responsible and easy to raise, no health concerns, some money in the bank and gainful employment that makes us both feel useful. We shouldn't bicker, instead I need to stop and be grateful for the good stuff and shut up about the rest.

I'll end with a few more things that spring to mind:
Mr. G's fantastic fourth grade teacher
a friend's child healing after a horrible accident
Saturday morning yoga
a 3-day weekend coming up
Mr. T getting within shouting distance of his Eagle Scout award
good friends who say the right things and make me laugh and feel accepted
apple bread

Spill it, reader.  What's stretching you lately? 





Friday, February 13, 2015

number of the week: 9

Finally it's Friday, sweet Friday.  I spent Monday night at a wrestling meet an hour away to watch my kid wrestle one match (Mr. B got a pin!) and have two byes.
I got home at nine. 
Then I spent Tuesday night teaching at church and then drove home at 35 mph because the roads were slow with fresh snow.
I got home at nine.
Wednesday night I had book club, which was good in that I always enjoy the Bumbles and the book was fabulous.  The venue, however, was not so nice.  My overpriced food was mediocre and the service lousy.  The wine was fine, but by midweek I'd drink Boone's Farm and feel pleased.
I got home at nine.
Thursday I shuttled kids to and from practices and spent the remainder of my night glued to my ipad where a basketball game played out with much intensity. (We'd have gone to the game except for the practices on our schedule.) Mr. G and Mr. B and I sat on the couch and held our breath through the second half of a live stream, we didn't even get commercial breaks. Our team lost and we were crushed.
The game got done around nine. 
All week long I've been busy from six in the morning until nine at night.  I'm tapped, shellacked, wiped and zonked.
Tonight I came home after work and dashed out twice to pick up children (one my own, two belonging to other people). I ordered pizza to be delivered. I read a week's worth of blogs, cleared up some bill-paying and paperwork, wrote two letters, tidied up the piles and ran a load of wash. I'm ready for bed and guess what?
It's not even nine yet.


Sunday, February 8, 2015

progeny

First off, why haven't any of you mentioned how terrific Liane Moriarty is? I'm almost done with Big Little Lies and I want to read everything she's written now.
Big Little Lies
Read this right now.  Skip reading the rest of this post and go read this funny, brilliant book!
Still reading this post?  I'll try not to disappoint.  I'll share a heartwarming tale of a mother and son.  I've been spending a lot of time with Mr. T lately.  He's not wrestling or playing basketball, basically he goes to school and then comes home.  He's not terribly interested in a social life after the last bell of the day, and he's okay with that.  (I've asked around, this is apparently pretty normal for boys his age.)  I take him out to practice his driving.  He goes grocery shopping with me. Sometimes he gets on my very last nerve (mostly because I need my alone time and lately I haven't had hardly any), but generally we get along well.  We talk about school, politics, Dr. Who, gadgets, music, books, and nothing in particular.

This weekend he tagged along when I brought Mr. B to his basketball tournament. We spent a mind-numbing evening bored out of our wits together watching really bad basketball.  I love my kid, but it was one of those painful days as a  mom in the bleachers. Plus I was a little crabby.

Anyway, Mr. T and I sniped a bit back and forth, sometimes the very reason he gets on my last nerve is because he is exactly like me. Argumentative, quick to argue, a bit of a know-it-all.

Between games we sat at a table in the high school cafeteria chewing on walking tacos and this woman walked past with frosted eighties hair that looked like this, except without the mullet back and with even MORE Aqua Net holding it vertical:


Her hair was this big.  Even bigger. 
Actually this is more like it. Only frosted blonde.

We simultaneously gawked and snickered.

It's a splendid thing to realize your kid carries your traits.

Today he accompanied me on a mission to the mall.  I never, ever go to the mall.  It couldn't be helped, however.  I had to purchase a birthday gift certificate, a pot of age-defying moisturizer only sold at Sephora (damn you, Sephora, you and your irresistible promises of beauty and smooth, line-free skin) and the monthly necessities from Target.  The only way to do this efficiently was to shop at mall. Ugh. Once a year. Ugh.

As we parked and entered, Mr. T remarked that this was only his second trip to the mall.  No, you've been here before as a baby, I reminded him.  I waited to see how he'd react to it.  The previous trip he remembered was over Christmas, shopping with his dad.  Would he be impressed?  Want to shop at The Buckle for new jeans? Ask to venture further in, past Sephora, into wings of the mall he'd never explored? I had a vision of him asking me to drive him back to the mall next weekend, to hang out with other teenaged friends wearing skinny jeans and apathetic stares.  Maybe he'd be smitten by the glamor of working at Brookstone, surrounded by gadgets (he never met a gadget or gizmo he didn't love).  The kid does have a knack for sales.  I really, really hoped he didn't like the mall very much, but I determined to keep that opinion to myself.

We walked past the stores, our eyes assaulted by light and color.  I made a single snide remark about my senses being overstimulated. He was silent as we were suddenly assaulted by the cloud of perfume wafting out of Hollister. Gasping for fresh air, we advanced another hundred feet, only to be hit by the fruity-flowery attack of Bath & Body Works.  By the time we reached Sephora, Mr. T expressed concern that he might suffocate.  Are we ready to leave yet, he asked.

I hurriedly purchased the vital anti-aging face cream and we beat our retreat towards Target.  Are you sure you don't want to stop anywhere and get anything? No, I do not like the mall, my son said decisively.  My heart swelled with pride.  I hate that there's no windows.  I could never work here, I confided. It's worse than at school, he agreed.  I'm in one room all day that has windows.  But the smells.  Yes, the smells.  And the people. It's all so wasteful and pointless. There's nothing you even need here.

Anti-aging moisturizer.  For old skin, I pointed out, holding up the box in my right hand.  Well, yes, he agreed, and your skin is old. But besides that, there's like no reason to be here.

Ah, my son. You're turning out wonderful.  You're turning out to be just like me.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

looking forward to bedtime

You know your heart's not in the game when you only look up during commercial breaks. Let's talk about other stuff besides football. I've got a couple hours until Downton Abbey starts.


What's new?

We've got a full slate of activity around these parts.  Our weekends mostly involve basketball or wrestling, some church and making the rounds visiting friends, which is fine since we barely have any snow which makes winter a bummer. I wish I could pull on my cross country skis or snowshoes and head into the woods, but there's not much point.  And it's been a bleak winter with so many overcast days. Thank goodness for yoga every Saturday and indoor exercise equipment.

I've been reading like a fiend.  My English 12 students are about to start their science fiction unit and we have a half dozen young adult dystopian novels for their reading pleasure.  Since they'll split into "book clubs" for this unit, I'm reading them all in case they have questions.  I've got two left to read, but the last one I'll read along with my classes, so that gives me a little breathing room. In AP we're about to launch into Walden.  You know how I feel about that. On the YA front, I recommend Legend by Marie Lu as my favorite so far. As a palate-cleanser between these depressing books I've got Jeeves and the Wedding Bells by Sebastian Faulks, really ripe stuff!

On a related note, we saw a lot of people pulled over by police this weekend while driving through town. I felt my gut clenching and began to worry that the police state is taking over, proof that reading too much dystopian lit. can increase paranoia.

When I'm not reading and planning the next chunk of curriculum, I'm grading papers in my spare time. Mr. T is learning to drive and we've spent some quality time together on the road.  He's gradually getting the hang of braking and determining when to turn at an intersection and when to use his directional signal. I keep my mouth shut and only mention the occasional pointer (like, "You want to stay off the shoulder, that's for bikes and people on foot"). He's begun helping with dinner prep during the week, which adds to how much I value him. He's a crackerjack chef when it comes to meatballs and tacos.

We got a new bed. A real bed. An actual bed with a foot board and headboard all properly connected together and a brand new mattress.  We used to have a metal frame with a flimsily attached headboard. If Mr. D or I rolled over, the other person felt the whole bed shake.  The mattress was springless and offered no real support. It looked ugly and cheap and worse than that, it felt ugly and cheap. You know it's bad when you can't wait for one of the kids to be gone on a sleepover so you can take their mattress. Or get all excited about sleeping in a hotel because of the nice mattresses.  So two weeks ago I grabbed husband and wallet and we drove to our furniture guy. Yeah, I have a guy for that, too. And his name is Guy.  Guy had bought the clearance stock of a Canadian furniture company and had king-sized beds in his warehouse on sale.  What we spent on our pretty new bed, we saved on not having to buy box springs.  Can you believe that kind of luck? Now every night when I sit on this amazing bed I feel like a queen.  The luxury of it!


That's not a picture of our actual bed, but it's pretty darn close. (I'm too lazy to get up and take a picture and upload it. Plus you know I'd never put tea on the bed where it would probably tip over and spill.) We even have two drawers in the foot board like you see above, which forced me to clean all the crap from under our original bed after this fancy new bed arrived.  Then I get rid of a bunch of junk I'd been hoarding--old picture frames, old t-shirts, a sh*t-ton of karate belts, that kind of crap.  The whole business resonated so deeply with reading Thoreau and "Economy." One of the two drawers is still empty as I type this. I plan to keep it that way.

A new bed, dystopian fiction, teen driver, economy. Spill it, reader.  What's new in your neck of the woods?


© 2014 Melissa Westemeier All Rights Reserved

Friday, January 16, 2015

slam books

We're reading The Crucible in English 12.  I have 30 copies.  A classroom set.  This means all the reading takes place in class because with 96 students there aren't enough copies for each student to have their own.  It's a play.  That's fine.  We're reading it out loud anyway.  Besides, the school board in the Happyland School District is all about thrift and frugality so 30 copies is what you get, and that's 10 more copies than the other plays sitting in the book cupboard.  (Seriously.  Thrift and frugality are the baseline for 99.3% most of the decisions they make.)

In previous years students must have had their own copies when reading The Crucible.  Their names are written on the inside cover, in cursive, in print, in ink, in pencil.  I didn't ask my students to write names in the books because:
a. I don't have a seating chart
b. Two of the six hours I teach are not reading The Crucible, so they get stacked to the side throughout the day which means they move around the room
c. They can't take the books home anyway.

But a few students did write their names in the books.  And then a few other students added their opinions of these students and within a couple days I noticed a trend of kids eagerly opening their books to the inside covers to read what had been added or written.  They showed each other.  They laughed.  Some of the kids wrote more stuff (presumably).  Some took pictures with their gaming /phone/camera/bane of my existence devices. Today I heard people reading out loud what had been written in some of the books.

Cruel things.
Mean things.
Vulgar things.
Unimaginative things.

It made me think of those slam books from my youth.  The slam books documented by Judy Blume.  The slam books I figured were long gone and the only harassment I needed to keep a vigilant eye out for was the online kind. I did NOT expect this.

Francine-Pascals-Sweet-Valley-High-P-B-48-Slam-Book-Fever-GC

I spent 20 minutes today during my only prep period erasing and whiting out inside covers.  They're seniors, immature and stupid, senseless and self-absorbed.  With the books moving around the room it's impossible to track down the offenders and I'm not about to start witch hunt (although, it would be fitting, no?).  Instead I'll have to verbally warn each class and check the insides of the books each hour to make sure nothing new gets written.  I guess I'll treat the situation like graffiti.  Scrub out every shred of it so no one feels empowered to add to it--that's usually the best approach.

Inside I'm groaning, though.  It pisses me off to deal with something so stupid and dumb and petty and hateful when I have a million more important ways to spend my time lately.  I feel bad for the kids who got "slammed" but I think the damage was minimal--the comments were generic enough that it doesn't qualify as intentional harassment. 

So, the frazzled lady in Room 212 working overtime with a stack of papers to grade, a final exam to write, two units of curriculum to plan, and a mound of red tape paperwork to file so she can prove she's an effective teacher?  She'll be opening 30 book covers at the end of first, third, fifth and sixth hours to prevent future harassment and keep the school district's property in good shape for years to come. 

If I wrote a slam book it might read like this:

The senior class is:
mostly funny
sometimes stupid
very irritating
not as clever as they think they are
lazy
likeable (usually)
too loaded with boys

Ugh.  What a cruddy grumpy post after a two-week hiatus!  Let's try this again with something cheer-inducing.


This year's Oscars:
biased towards the Brits (but they totally deserve it)
mostly white
annoying because The Lego Movie got snubbed
funny because my secret gay boyfriend is hosting!
better not run late because I'll have to work in the morning

Spill it, reader.  Write the slam book entry with me. 

© 2014 Melissa Westemeier All Rights Reserved