Saturday, April 30, 2016

mirage

Is this post real? I tell you, I've written plenty of posts in my head during my morning shower, while sitting at baseball games, while doing dishes. It's incredible to think I'm actually sitting at my laptop pressing keys with my fingertips creating a real live blog post after so long.

Here are some remarkable things that have really happened since last I posted:

Our spring chores are nearly completed thanks to able-bodied minions who can pitchfork mulch into wheelbarrows and wash windows and carry heavy loads. A mother dreams of the day when her children can do these helpful things. I can't believe how ahead of schedule we are this year! It's only due to what Mr. G refers to as "slave labor" that this has happened. Mr. T is willing, Mr. B is easily bribed (when he's not off fishing), Mr. G whines incessantly and insists that our treatment of him is brutally unfair.  The daffodils have bloomed, we opened some windows to embrace the fresh air, we even walked around wearing shirtsleeves.  In fact we've accomplished so much that I told the crew they could have this weekend off and we'll save the biannual cleaning of the garage for next weekend. 

I brought Mr. G to the doctor to confirm suspicion that he has Osgood-Schlatter Disease (which sounds dreadful but is really common and not-life-threatening). While we waited in the examination room, we took turns measuring one another. After double, then triple-checking the ruler on the wall I was surprised to learn I'm actually a whole inch taller than I've believed myself to be since sixth grade! All my life I've marked myself as 5'3". Turns out I'm still growing! Or maybe yoga has stretched out my spine an extra inch. Whatever the cause, the discovery thrilled me.  Meanwhile, Mr. G's knees seem to be recovering now that basketball season is ended. The doctor's orders are to rest as needed, continue with regular activity otherwise.

Senioritis has crept into Room 212. I'm throwing every good thing I've got trying to keep these kids engaged as we hit the last stretch of the school year (a handful are exceptionally ornery but this is a Mostly Good class). English 12 had their Vietnam War simulation this past week, an activity that involves hours of preparation booby-trapping the lecture hall with black thread and paint cans to they can practice teamwork and communication skills. AP Language & Composition tests on May 11th and after that point it's all Harry Potter and this year they want to watch all of Dead Poets' Society since I made them watch 3 clips while introducing Transcendentalism to them (we end on Walden).  I suggested we could spend the last 2 weeks of class marketing my new book, taking pictures of them reading the proof copy in various poses and posting the pictures on social media.  They had some good ideas--on a horse! behind the cash register at Kwik Trip! on a log in the woods! (very Thoreauvian!) but that seemed exploitative so I'll hold off on the marketing until after they graduate.

Ah, that book. The back cover hit every possible snag and delay. I should have a proof copy from the printer this week. Then it should be on sale in two more weeks. God has really used this opportunity to help me learn patience.  I have not ground my teeth to stumps. I have not set fire to my laptop. I have not forsaken hope that it will emerge from what seems to be a Bermuda Triangle of book design. Someday I believe I'll even have a JPG of the cover to show people.

Meanwhile, I finished editing someone else's book, Doorway to Murder by Carol Pouliot. You will love it and I will tell you all when you can buy a copy while giving one away here this winter. Stay tuned.

We hit a new low in Room 212 last week. I asked my AP students to choose any single paragraph in "Sounds" by Thoreau and identify how he uses figurative language and explain its effect on the text or reader.  After a few minutes I began asking for volunteers to share. Five tries later one sweet girl raised her hand and said, "Ms. W, I don't think we know what figurative language is." These kids have had two years of AP between Literature as juniors and Language as seniors. For a moment I was convinced I was the worst teacher on earth or first hour was totally fried. I explained that figurative language includes the use of metaphor, imagery, allusion ...  light bulbs went on all over the room and then we got things rolling in a forward direction again. Whew.

Mr. T got a PR in his track event, Mr. B broke a bat during a softball game last night, Mr. D's team has only lost 2 games this season and I've managed to get every person dropped off or picked up on time for all of their events and practices--with all of their gear to boot.  There should be some kind of medal or ribbon awarded to the parents who accomplish that feat, especially when dealing with multiple offspring. In fact, I just spent an hour on the phone with Mr. D this morning, navigating him through Milwaukee's suburbs as he got lost driving Mr. G to a baseball tournament. I felt like ground control guiding him along with Mapquest. You should come up to Barker Street. What intersection are you on right now? Okay, in three exits you will turn LEFT ...  Heck, I need a TROPHY for that successful mission!

That's the news here. We can begin a countdown now to my next post, last day of school, my book release, the days remaining until the next Star Wars movie, the final paper to grade for the school year ...

Spill it, reader. What are you counting down the days until?

Friday, March 25, 2016

smug & snug

Spring break started a day early around these parts with a SNOW DAY. A blizzard bundled everyone out of the building Wednesday and when I rolled out of my classroom after breaking through the tsunami wave of paperwork on my desk at 5:30 (end of quarter grading, the budget, senior class stuff, plus a bunch of accountability forms mandated by the state all came due at about the same time), no one was left in the building besides me a few custodians. Apparently everyone else was out shopping for toilet paper and milk as one is wont to do when the weather takes a turn for the worse. Mr. D had called asking if I needed to go to the store, but I assured him we were stocked with enough carbohydrates, frozen pizzas and other essentials to last us through the next 48 hours until the roads cleared.

It's Day 2 of Spring Break, I'm still in my pajamas and so far I have:
*run 3.5 miles on the elliptical
*wiped down and cleaned out 3/4 of the kitchen cabinets
*run 3 loads of wash
*cleaned the living room closet (board games, craft supplies, decorations, tablecloths, etc.)
*generated 2 large boxes of miscellany to donate to the thrift shop
*read newspapers
*edited 67 pages of Carol Pouliot's new book (coming in November! stay tuned!)
*updated Team Testosterone's school books
*only worn elastic waistbands and t-shirts and showered once, no make-up, no hair product, and only pulled on boots when I went outside to shovel snow
*read blogs
*read 1/4 of a book by Penelope Lively (she is fantastic)
*made Team Testosterone clean their rooms
*updated the spring calendar with baseball games, track meets and practice schedules

I also watched the robins on our driveway. They are as big as softballs! They almost look like Angry Birds.

To sum up, I'm feeling smug in what I accomplished with my extra day off and snug in my pajama pants and slippers. We're celebrating Easter Eve with my sister and Grandma Alice and isn't Easter the easiest meal to prepare? We're eating ham, asparagus, rolls, potatoes, deviled eggs and pineapple upside down cake--half that stuff simply gets popped in the oven with no fuss, Mr. T makes the eggs and Mr. D's insisting on doing the potatoes this year.

I won't get after any of the yard work this break which is a shame, but at least I'll get the indoor chores done and have lots of time to read and play games with the kids. I didn't even bring home school work, I'm that committed to relaxing. Already my brain feels better for that decision. 

Plus, Grantchester starts up Sunday night!  Gosh, life is sweet!

Spill it, reader. What's on your plate for Easter break?

Saturday, February 27, 2016

a weenie and a whiner

I got called up for jury duty this month. Around Christmas the "prospective juror survey" came in the mail and I filled it out, hoping they had plenty of white middle-aged women in the pool so they wouldn't require my assistance. No dice. The "official summons letter" arrived two weeks ago advising me to show up on Feb. 24-March 4. Clear my calendar, make arrangements with my employer, sort out child care. Mr. D was jealous, he's always wanted to be called up, he thinks it would be interesting. And while I agree that juries are a great method to insuring fair trials, I have no current desire to serve.

I re-read the letter from the judge and noted where you could write a letter to get excused for "hardship or medical reasons." No harm, no foul, so I decided to go for it. I wrote to the judge explaining that as a teacher I have to plan every day I'm absent. Teaching isn't the kind of gig where I can say to my staff, Nigel, hold my calls and reschedule everybody for the next week or so. I'm responsible for grading almost 100 papers a week. I advise students in a club and write letters of recommendation and serve on a committee and provide intervention for readers and adjust each lesson plan based on each previous day's achievements (or failures). Prepping for English 12 and AP Language & Composition isn't like telling a sub to referee a few rounds of dodge ball (no offense, phy ed folks, but we all know some courses require more curriculum development than others). As a juror I'd have to serve all day and spend all evening on my day job, that seemed like a hardship to me.

Plus, we have a shortage of substitute teachers. There are some great subs, but the demand is also great, which guarantees an unqualified person would be probably end up in Room 212, and while serving as a juror is a marvelously important civic duty, so is my role as a public educator. I didn't mention in my letter that I'm also a mom of 3 and run a household, though that would make jury duty even tougher under the circumstances.

Friends told me how you usually only have to show up the first day, it's not that big of a deal, you just call in each day and find out if you serve. A few people advised me to just act obnoxious--tell the judge that I'm Wiccan/Vegan/Muslim/Hindu/Baptist/VooDoo/Decaf or that I'm pro-death penalty in all circumstances.
 

Tempting though it was to pull a Liz Lemon, I can't lie and I'm pretty rotten at it, too, though it was tempting. Instead I started sketching out long-range sub plans for a week and a half. Indeed, I am a weenie and a whiner. But as a weenie and whiner resigned to participating reluctantly grudgingly actively in the Founding Fathers' vision of a democratic government (though I'm fairly certain Jefferson, Adams and Hamilton were the kind of guys who had plenty of staff on hand to run their affairs smoothly and wives to manage the daily tasks of household duties and child-rearing should they be called to serve as jurors when they wrote that amendment), I held out little hope for a reprieve.

I imagine I felt a little like the person about to go on trial.

Praying, persevering and planning for contingencies I carried on with a stiff upper lip. I did close my letter to the judge assuring him of my enthusiastic participation as a juror anytime over summer break, so maybe, maybe he'd excuse me out of kindness and recognizing that I was indeed a decent citizen.

Last Wednesday Mr. G took a phone message from the judge's secretary--I was excused! It was such a weight off my back, sweet freedom!

This week the trial started and it's headlining our local newspaper. It turns out I was summoned for a murder trial (exciting!) and the case got under way in a packed-out courthouse. I'm relieved I took a bye this round, this case will run all of another week if what I've read is any indication. Weird to imagine I might have watched everything unfold firsthand and been part of the decision, but I have no regrets, only gratitude toward a sympathetic judge who let me sit this one out.

Spill it, reader. Have you ever served as a juror? Was it interesting or horrible?

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?