Thursday, November 20, 2014

the grateful season

I couldn't find the wreath on which we've traditionally pinned our "thankful leaves" this year, but a bulletin board is doing the trick.  Team Testosterone seems most thankful for food products and friends.  As for me, my leaves included sunshine, a warm house and a quiet afternoon.  I'm spread thin these days, so I'm spreading out my gratitude over a few extra days to relish the process.  Let's begin this forsooth--to wit, I am filled with gratitude for:

1. Those hotel-sized bottles of shampoo which I've used in a pinch when I ran out of my regular shampoo earlier this week. 
2. On that note, great haircuts.
3. Only two work days next week. TWO!  TWO!  You have no idea how much HOPE that's giving every teacher at Happyland High right now. We breathe it like a mantra, having had no days off since the school year started.  Two day week.  Two day week.
4.  The Momvan still reliably starts and moves everyone from Point A to Point B.  She deserves an oil change and a tire rotation and I'm going to get that for her next week.  
5.  Really good teachers for Team Testosterone.  They enjoy going to school and learning.
6. Coffee.  Especially at 1:30 in the afternoon.
7. Mr. D going grocery shopping tonight and starting the dishwasher yesterday.  It's the little things, isn't it?
8. Indoor plumbingSeriously easy to take that for granted, but I try to remember to appreciate it.
9. Fantastic co-workers who have consistently been kind, welcoming and helpful from the first day I showed up to sub last March. 
10. This one is totally indulgent--SmartWool socks.  Last night my friend Diane and I were pleased as punch to discover we were wearing matching socks and we extolled the virtues of the SmartWool sock to our fellow Bumbles.  Warm, durable, totally worth the money.
11.  My friend Nick for Skyping me into a pretty groovy jazz session at a coffee shop tonight .

Thursday, November 13, 2014

meaty issues

One thing I've noticed about this whole working overtime business is how I trim the fat from my life.  I used to troll the internet looking for interesting stuff, but now it's the furthest thing from my mind.  A hundred thirty-odd students, book choices, Lexile levels, recommendation letters and lesson planning is a much more pressing concern than what T-Lo has to say about J-Law's latest dress.  I still binge on blogs on the weekend when I find a spare hour, but the rest of the week I check emails and a bit of Facebook only because these things are easily accessed on my phone.  I can breeze through a few FB posts with half my attention while waiting for the photocopier to run next week's vocabulary quizzes. 

Food has been a bit of an adjustment as well.  The ol' crock pot slow cooks meat at least once a week--tonight it was a pork roast that I shredded with a fork and mixed with BBQ sauce.  My carnivore family requests burgers and pepperoni pizza weekly, and last night Mr. T's sole request for dinner was bacon.  Just bacon, nothing else.  The other two kids asked for Nutella sandwiches, so I acquiesced, placing a pan of bacon in the oven for one and slapping chocolate-hazelnut spread across slices of whole wheat for the other two.  There's liberation in phoning the pizza delivery dude a few times a month and I'm not stressing over serving up a main course with two sides because salad and apple slices are just as healthy as mashed potatoes and green beans. Healthier, really.

My biggest success and failure came in the form of a spiral cut ham (on special last week at the Piggly Wiggly).  I cooked it in the crock pot and glazed it according to the directions.  Team Testosterone enthusiastically ate slice after slice ... after slice.  I boiled the remaining ham and bone into pea soup.  The ham was a BIG win.  The Major Fail came the morning after I had first served it.  I'd eaten some myself and my wonky knee started to swell and ache.  Turns out salty food makes me gimp and hobble along and I had to climb one stair at a time to reach my second floor classroom that morning.  Ah, the humility!  The only comfort was in arriving early enough that I had the stairwell to myself as I groaned along, clutching my coffee in one hand and bag of graded essays in the other.  I stayed upstairs all day, and felt thankful we didn't have a fire drill.

In other meat-related news, a couple of my classes recently watched Apocalypse Now after reading Joseph Conrad's The Heart of Darkness.  Say it with me: The horror!  The horror!  You know how Apocalypse Now ends, right?  Kurtz gets sliced up in tandem with some kind of ritual bull sacrifice occurring in the middle of his Cambodian fortress.  My students were horrified by this, which surprised me since we live in the middle of dairy farms and I know darn well my students understand where cheeseburgers come from.  I told them to just think of the slaughter as a pre-steak fry ritual.

There you have it, I'm bringing home bacon, frying it up in a pan and disturbing my seniors with images of a young Martin Sheen attacking Marlon Brando.  Medium-well, that's how it's going on the cooked meat scale.  Spill it, reader.  How do you like your steak?

Saturday, November 1, 2014


Where to begin? I was clobbered but now I'm not.  Shall I back up to Thursday afternoon when, during 7th hour, my principal told me I would be headed to a conference on Friday? Or shall I begin at Thursday night when, around eleven o'clock, I sent a giant editing job OFF my desk and to the inbox of its rightful owner? Perhaps Friday is a better starting point.  Friday morning I went to the conference (praying that the poor substitute stuck with my chaotic lesson plans wasn't cursing me too badly when they learned I wanted the kids to "Twitter the Shrew" hours 1, 3, 5 and 6) and discovered three things.  1) Lunch was catered by Panera.  I never eat fancy fast food, it was a treat.  (Bonus, I had lunch with a lovely woman who has just finished her first novel and we talked about teaching and writing and people we both knew.)  2) The information presented was RELEVANT and USEFUL and WONDERFUL.  So much so that I texted my principal and thanked him for making me go.  3) I also got some practical ideas for implementing More Socratic Method in my classroom.  (Kind of like "More Cowbell" but even cooler.)
More Socrates! Ask those probing questions, make those seniors THINK!

This was good stuff.  But then things got better.  The drive to the conference was gorgeous--all hills, valleys, changing fall colors and scenic farm fields.  The instructor suggested a half hour lunch break so we could leave earlier at the end of the day.  My children had a satisfying go at trick-or-treating despite a serious breach of tradition this year.  Happyland High won the playoff game.

I should have bought some lottery tickets, right?

This morning Mr. G had a basketball tournament, but took a seat on the bench during the second game because he couldn't breathe.  After the game (and he has a good coach, who made sure he had water and let him sit out the rest of the game), I called the doctor's office and got him in immediately.  Bronchitis.  One Z-pack from the drugstore drive-thru later, the poor kiddo was wrapped in my pink snuggie playing Madden 12 while coughing up his left lung.

I hope the sickness ends with him and Mr. G is grateful he doesn't have ebola.  Funny kid. But because he got sick and we came home early from basketball, my floor got swept, the laundry got washed, Mr. D's birthday cake got baked and frosted and I read 150 blog posts in my Feedly reader.

This was all enormously fulfilling but then I took a walk in the woods this afternoon.

It's so quiet now.  Frost has silenced the crickets and frogs.  Birds call, but no longer sing. A woodpecker steadily drums against a dead tree.  Leaves rustle.  The greenest thing I can find is moss growing on fallen logs.  I can see everything now that the leaves have dropped.  The landscape is branches and the spiky twigs of summer's nettle.  Spring's promise and summer's richness covers the ground in layers of dead leaves and seed pods.  A lone deer picks its way past on the other side of the creek.

The peace of the afternoon as the sun lowers is what I crave.  Even the creek moves slowly, barely a surface ripple, the faintest trickle if you strain to hear it.  I admire a hollow tree trunk, the mixture of red and yellow and brown leaves across the paths, the clean curve of a hanging vine and the deep prints left behind in the wet earth.  Everything is in plain sight now after the frost and a windstorm, there's no mystery in the woods, just a deep settling-in sort of sigh before winter tucks it in for a long sleep. 

Fall is not my favorite time of year, but my favorite place reflects its beauty.  I crash through the dried brush, stomped over the dying field grass and returned home, my face ruddy from cold and my spirit refreshed.

Spill it, reader.  Where have you felt a break lately?

Thursday, October 23, 2014


That sums it up.  Six hours of a seven period school day I'm nose-to-the-grindstone and during the last hour of the day, my prep period, my brain and body are so fried I sort of sit and stare into space a bit before prodding myself back into productivity.  And then there's that eighth period, the study/ lunch period when every other teacher in the building is supervising a study hall and then eating.  I have an assigned group for reading intervention, so I'm even teaching then.  For the record, I'm not a trained reading interventionist so I don't know what the heck I'm supposed to do, nor am I compensated much for the difference in job assignment, but my ten students and I are plugging away, reading copies of True Grit I gleaned at the Half-Price book store, pausing to work out context clues for difficult words along the way and discussing how plot and point of view go together. I'm working over-overtime.

How is it going?


I like the kids.  They really are great.  Even the knuckleheads are basically good people and I enjoy some qualities in every one of them.  Most of them try hard and seem willing, so no complaints there.

I feel like I'm doing what I'm called to do--helping kids learn how to write better and read well.  The AP Language & Composition class is sort of like Fantasy Land for me, we've just finished a documentary (King Leopold's Ghost) and The Heart of Darkness and are beginning to work through the trio of ethos, pathos and logos before they write their first synthesis essay in another week (after adding Apocalypse Now to the stack 'o stuff to synthesize).

I have a short drive to work, the building administration and co-workers are lovely, I purchased some wick sticks and essential oil from Indigo Wild to combat the sweaty feet smell in my classroom.  These are all good things.

My family has been helpful (when I beg or scream) in pitching in.  But I'm wiped out after the second shift (you know, the one where you feed and tend to home, hearth and family members) ends and I lie in bed wasted from the effort.  I knew getting the extras done would be tricky, and unlike most teachers, I didn't have time to plan or arrange for real life during the school year or I would have had doctor's appointments scheduled and gifts purchased and other miscellaneous details sorted out before September 2nd.  It's tempting to phone in a sick day just to catch up with the home workload before the next quarter starts.

I never go outside, except to watch a kid participate in a sporting event. 

I never read, except for what my students write or read.

We haven't carved pumpkins or baked cinnamon-laced apple pies this fall, the laundry pile sits unfolded and I've quit making lists.

Can you believe that last part?  I've been a dedicated list-maker since high school.  Write shit down, get it done, cross it off.  It's how I roll.  But now I'm too busy to write a list most weeks.  It's like I live in triage-mode--stitching up the gaping wounds of life as they appear in front of me.  I'm hoping that I will catch my breath next weekend, step back, gain perspective, clean off my desk, pay visits to a few loved ones and prepare a proper meal. Make a list and get some focus back, that's my plan.

I'm here, hanging on by a thread, keeping up with the grading and staying one step ahead with the lesson planning.  We have food in our fridge, gas in the Momvan and faith that things will level out soon.  They will, right?

Spill it, reader.  How goes it with you?

Sunday, October 5, 2014


Wish (verb)  feel or express a strong desire or hope for something that is not easily attainable; want something that cannot or probably will not happen.

Wishing means wanting a thing or experience you cannot possibly have no matter what you do. In short, wishing means wanting the impossible and today I want impossible things.

I wish it was still September with gloriously bright 70 degree days instead of blustery October full of drizzle and grey.

I wish I wanted to eat my vegetables as much as I want to eat candy corn and chocolate.

I wish students would grammar and spell check before turning in their papers.  I wish I could spend my time giving them meaningful feedback instead of simply serving as a proofreader.

On that note, I wish all the kids struggling with sentence structure were in one class instead of scattered throughout the day, and the kids who need pointers on language use had class together (yeah, buddy, "I seen you got that wrong there"), and the kids who need help understanding verbs (the myriad of tenses and choices and their general necessity to every sentence's meaning) had class together.  That would make teaching writing a quadzillion times easier.

I wish my knee would stop hurting and the medicine to make my knee stop hurting would stop hurting my stomach.

I wish I could reason with wingnuts. 

I wish Jax would quit pooping underneath the clotheslines.

I wish Rose would leave the houseplants alone.  (I covered the dirt with aluminum foil, we'll see if that keeps her out.)

I wish I never had to repeat myself when giving instructions.

Spill it, reader.  What do you wish?

Sunday, September 28, 2014

cat gets mouse!

What an exciting week around here!  Rose officially became a mouser on Friday and since tasting fresh meat, she has a new passion.  It's kind of funny, though, as Jax follows her around every time we let her outside.  On one hand, it's nearly impossible for her to catch and eat a mouse when 80 pounds of panting, furry, galumping beast breathes down her neck.  Nothing subtle about good ol' Jax.  On the other hand, he's a bit chubby, so following her around provides him with vital exercise.  The trick seems to be sneaking her out the front door when he's at the back door.

Look at Rose with her first mouse!
 In other news, I enjoyed a second meeting with my rheumatologist since my pint o' blood got analyzed.  Turns out I do NOT have gout!  I DO have some weird genetic positivity for HLA-B27, which sounds robotic but not medieval like the gout diagnosis did. This business manifests itself in random joint swelling, in this case my right knee.  Two thirds of the small percentage of people who suffer from HLA-B27can get permanent relief with treatment.  He recommended a year of drug therapy which won't take effect for a couple of months.  Meanwhile, it's wait and see for me.  I'm sticking to low impact stuff, no running for now, but I can tolerate using the elliptical, bike riding and Just Dance 3.  This continues my kabash on karate for now, too.  Mr. T and I planned to return to the dojo this winter, hopefully my knee will respond and heal and I can return to regularly scheduled programming for another decade or so.

Shaking it down and OWNING the Monday night dance off with Team Testosterone.
 We cleaned out one garden this weekend and the pumpkin patch.  My hands and forearms are full of that goofy rash reaction I get to pumpkin/squash vines.  The mosquitoes are wretched, too, so my back, legs and arms are covered with itchy bites.   Such a gorgeous weekend from start to finish.  We watched the home team win the Homecoming football game Friday night (Go Happyland High!), enjoyed Mr. B's football game, Mr. G's flag football game, yard work and even picked some apples at the orchard down the road. 

Mr. G picked about 20 pounds of Cortland and MacIntosh apples.
I also had a fantastic opportunity to hear from the head of Awana International this weekend and the man who heads up Africa's Awana clubs--yeah, you read that right, AFRICA.  As in the entire continent.  Pretty awesome to learn how God is at work changing so many lives in radical ways.  And the NUMBERS.  It's jaw dropping to learn about the work our sister church in Burkina Faso has done, and how marvelously they've knitted together well digging and children's ministry and literacy and job training for people in the world's 3rd poorest nation.  It was also cool to learn now Awana has changed with the times and become a more effective ministry than ever as it creatively responds to the needs of people.

What else?  Mr. T set a new PR in cross country on Thursday night.  I'm swamped with papers to grade.  My students are nice people (just a few exceptions) and a pleasure to work with--a few crackerjack writers have emerged already, and the AP Language & Composition class has their first taste of real work as I've assigned Joseph Conrad's The Heart of Darkness this week.  That will be our only class novel, it's glorious for use of language, mood and narration.  After writing literary analysis essays about it in another week, they'll approach a synthesis writing assignment using the book, King Leopold's Ghost (nonfiction) and Apocalypse Now. 

Mice, pumpkins, new drug prescription, big stuff in Africa, papers to grade.  Yep, that about sums it up.  Spill it, reader.  What's new in your neck of the woods?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

that little greenhouse project

I did promise pictures of my side endeavor ages ago, didn't I?  I'm trying to make good on my word in several areas lately, so let's get after it, shall we?

Walking from our driveway to the GINORMOUS MAN CAVE, you see a sidewalk leading to the edge of the building. 

Behold!  That, friends, is the perfectly situated location for my Barbie Dream Greenhouse (TM).  It's in full sun all day long in a grassy area and the metal building provides a break from the wind and reflects the sun's heat, too.  

You may recall that a greenhouse was my perk in the whole GINORMOUS MAN CAVE deal.  I've wanted one for quite some time.  After months of research, I settled on the RIGA IV, a German-designed 9X17 greenhouse constructed less for beauty and more for endurance in harsh weather.  It's also among the more affordable greenhouses. 

I ordered my kit last summer and it arrived only to sit in the shed's garage for the entire winter because last fall turned ugly fast and by the time I had help rounded up to put it together, snow covered the ground.  I had to wait ALL WINTER LONG, people, and look at my dream greenhouse in boxes.

The next issue I faced, once this thing got put together, was the raised beds.  I went round and round on this, because my greenhouse is on a concrete slab.  Wood would rot, you see.  Finally I settled on the affordable choice of stock tanks purchased from Fleet Farm.  I could fit 2 of these babies at a time in the back of the Momvan.  A few trips later, I had 5 tanks (2 feet deep by 2 feet wide and 5 feet long).  I bought some styrofoam insulation to rest them on and filled them with 6 inches of clean crushed gravel topped off with 18 inches of good composted soil from my favorite landscaping guy, Kirk.  These steel tanks are durable, rot-proof and will help retain the sun's heat in the winter.

Seed selection was my next hurdle.  Johnny's Selected Seeds has a nice variety of greenhouse seeds, so I placed an order.  Above you can see how my romaine lettuce has started well.  Also planted:  bibb lettuce, mixed greens, arugula, cucumbers, beets, carrots, onions and cherry tomatoes.

That there is the first cuke shoot.  Pretty cute, isn't it?

The day I planted I started a daily journal documenting what got planted when and how well it grows.  Ideally we'll be munching on freshly grown veggies year-round here.  If things go as well as I hope, we'll be able to sell some, too.  All the seeds are organic, heritage types and I'll have to study how quickly they grow to begin estimating the greenhouse's production capacity.  This is my first season, so I started conservatively.  Already I see I have room to plant more, it's a question of what and how.

I most definitely have room to plant starter seeds for summer gardening.  I love the built-in shelves running the length of the one side.  They're the perfect height for working and I haven't yet dragged over the rest of my garden tools and pots and such.  I also need to find a stool for sitting on and a heater for an auxiliary source in case the temps dip really low like they did last winter. 

Also cool: the self-opening vents in the roof.  On a hot day, they open all the way.  I have no idea how they work, but between them and the back window, which can lock in any position, things won't scorch. 
 In other garden news, things are mostly yellow and purple around here.

I've gotten behind in some parts of the yard work.  In another week or two I'll have to clean up this mess.  Meanwhile I just pick things when I feel like eating them.  As usual, there are too many damn tomatoes ripe exactly when school starts.

Now the cricket chirping gets punctuated by geese honking as they fly overhead.  Today was a bright, balmy day.  You have to cherish those in the fall because you never know if it will be the last.  Mr. T and I enjoyed a walk through the woods with Jax.  Already leaves cover parts of our trail and a bad storm the night before left some obstacles of fallen branches and puddles.

Mr. G buzzed by on the little four-wheeler, disrupting our peaceful stroll with his racket. 

That's the sum of things today outside.  I felt grateful for all of it--the flowers, the woods, the quiet and the noise.  Most especially I appreciated the space to escape into after spending most of my week inside Room 212 without a window.   I do miss the outdoors.  And not having to wear shoes all day.

Spill it, reader.  What made you grateful this weekend?