Sunday, October 4, 2015

like a punch to the gut

That's exactly how fall hit us this past week. One day we wore flip-flops and enjoyed the fine sheen of sweat on our brow, windows wide open to let in the balmy 80 degree breezes, the next day we woke up shivering, adding socks and sweaters, closing windows and turning on the heat.  On a related note, since they switched over to the heating system, Room 212 is pretty comfortable now. I appreciate not having to bundle up to go indoors for a change...

Mr. T is completely vetted as an Eagle Scout as of 1:00 today. The grandparents trekked to town, oaths were taken publicly, mentor pins attached to shirts and candles lit. Court of Honor in the books and now we kick back to enjoy the gentle winding down of the cross-country season.

While the grandparents were here we had a FEAST. It was like a major holiday here, we even dragged extra chairs to the table! Potatoes and onions on the grill, beside pork chops and hamburgers and hot dogs. Roasted beets. Salad with tomatoes and carrots. Apple crisp.  Much of this meal came straight from the garden and the apples came off of my parents' trees. I'm glad to have a week of leftovers in the fridge. 

Instead of lazing in my hammock to grade papers, I'm tucked beneath a blanket in the library with a view of the changing leaves outside. My AP students had to write an argument for or against computers grading papers (the irony!), most of them would prefer human teachers doing the dirty work. It's time to turn them to a reading kind of unit, five weeks under our belt and all of my classes will turn in their second major paper of the year this week. Whew. I need to get a little better at coordinating alternating paper due dates so I'm not shellacked by over a hundred to grade at once. Next year. It will get better next year.

So I said last year. But it is better.

What else is new around here? We're getting passports. I have a book grinding through the publishing process. Mr. B is researching chickens because he thinks it would be fun, educational and profitable to raise them.  Mr. G is kicking flag football butt.

And most exciting, TWO of my Screw Iowa Writers Workshop pals have new books out!  Check it:

You can buy your very own copy of this terrific mystery here or here or wait a month for my giveaway and hope you get lucky.

Likewise, you can order the first installment of this lush trilogy here or wait for my giveaway!

The Packers are ahead, I'm behind in my grading and I just looked out my window to see a kid getting ready to pee on my flowers by the porch so I better sign off.

Spill it, reader. How did fall hit you? Or are you still in summer season?

Sunday, September 20, 2015

working class

I had two glorious days in my classroom where the temperature raised above "Meat Cooler" and into "Temperate." Presuming some clever custodian had found the magical switch or lever or button that defrosted Room 212, I showed up on the third day last week dressed in normal clothes--khakis, shirt, scarf, sandals. I left with chilblains (a word I recently looked up since Kristen Hannah used it approximately 750 times in The Nightingale to describe the misery of living in Nazi-Occupied France.*).  Guess those two days were a mysterious fluke of the building's ancient heating-cooling system.

On a related note, my book club really liked The Nightingale and enjoyed our discussion of it. Over-reliance on chilblains aside.

Our first night at Awana went incredibly well. Not a single kiddo in our Cubbies room cried, which almost never happens with toddlers doing the first time of anything. They were sweet and listened and generally so cute and pleasant to work with. Last year was a pretty rough run for me as a room leader, so I had been praying about whether or not I should continue with the program. Discipline and classroom management issues are usually on the teacher's shoulders and I felt like the whole year was a fruitless struggle. Was I aging out of being productive? Too old and ineffective to work with this age group? Was God prodding me to focus my efforts elsewhere? When you walk away so drained from serving, something's not right.  Anyway, message received from upstairs, so I'm staying put for now and feeling good about it.

And speaking of kiddos, the students in Room 212 are pretty swell, too. Curious and polite and funny. Even the ornery ones aren't awful, in fact a couple of the ornery ones make me laugh every day. It should be a fun year in there. They turn in their first papers tomorrow, let the grading season begin!

Mr. T continues to run like a BOSS. He's won two medals as a JV runner. It's all very exciting and shocking to us at the same time.  He also rearranged his schedule to take Metals I. When I asked what one learns in Metals I, my son shrugged. No clue. Well, my grandpa was a welder, so perhaps he inherited some natural aptitude or interest. It would be cool if he did.
My Grandpa, Syl Panske. A shout-out to my cousin Mitch for sharing this photo find.

Mr. G and his buddies were playing football on the sidelines of the varsity game Friday night. It cracked me up when "Watch Me Whip" came on and all the little boys stopped in their tracks to sing and dance along.  I was so dog-tired after school Friday, I had zero desire to stand around in the rain to watch football. But we had a truckload of boys fervently desiring this entertainment, so I bucked up and we all went. I got to kick up my feet by the fire pit with a beer yesterday afternoon, my kind of end-of-the-work-week relaxation.

Today's job list includes laundry, homework help, cleaning floors and replacing the toaster that I accidentally set on fire last week while preparing a bagel to pack in my lunchbox.

Spill it, reader. What are you working on these days?

*Any association between conditions of Happyland High and the The Nightingale is unintentional and purely coincidental.

© 2015 Melissa Westemeier All Rights Reserved

Sunday, August 30, 2015

flash of gratitude

I decided that if I can't compose long, thoughtful posts, I'll go for the occasional gratitude list.  This practice will keep me in a better state of mind by allowing me to pour out and focus on the blessings, which benefits my mental health, AND it will keep any interested readers still lingering around this place sort of apprised on what's new in my world.

Mr. T had a great first cross-country race, setting a PR. This year should be huge for him and he's coming home pretty excited from his practices.  Mr. B's first meet is this week, so stay tuned. I love watching my kids participate in activities they enjoy.

While at the doctor's office for annual physicals I had to again defend my children's low birth rate. Yes, I feed them anything they want. No, I do not force them to exercise nonstop. As we waited by the desk, I encouraged the boys to help themselves each to a Dum Dum sucker in the jar. Mr. T pulled what he thought was a mystery flavor and it was BACON. Bacon flavored suckers. Amazing!
 Bacon Dum Dums Lollipops

The fields are abloom with goldenrod and the first leaves are turning color. The crickets have cranked up their song.

Okay, this doesn't really count as being grateful, but I have to add it in: our high school building smells jack-nasty. And it's not just parts of it, the entire building has a sweaty feet-B.O. FUNK to it and I'm seriously concerned about the air quality. The entry way, halls, classrooms--no single place smells neutral, let alone pleasant. Plus, there are NO windows to ever give it proper ventilation. I might be super-sensitive because I keep our windows open all the time, but am I the only person gagging?

My in-service meetings were all shorter than planned and the guest speaker (Civility in the Workplace) was really good. I like it when I can take away useful things from a meeting. I love it when people don't waste my time.

Cherry tomatoes + chickpeas = best summer salad.

Mr. B declared his goal of getting all A's this year. The other two are also looking forward to school starting, which tells me no one has regrets about how they frittered away their summer vacation.

The raspberry canes I moved are thriving. The greenhouse is nearly cleaned out and ready for fall planting. The blackberry bushes I planted this spring all survived. The pumpkins were a fail, but I'll stay focused on the positive.
row of raspberry canes

parade of pets that follows me wherever I go. sometimes I walk in random circles just to see if they'll keep following me around. they will. I feel like a parade marshal.

The pears keep coming. Last evening while I sat on the porch talking to a friend, Mr. T and Mr. G took turns chucking them as far as they could across the yard. Good thing it will rain soon, we have pear mash all over and it will be Wasp City. Wait, where's the gratitude in this part?

I finished the Laura Lippman book and actually had time to start a Maisie Dobbs mystery before my book club book arrives. Have I mentioned that I've gone nearly TV-free this summer? The only notable exceptions are Masterpiece, reruns of Modern Family and the occasional Brewer game. As I've stepped away from the screen, I find I hardly miss it and have more time for other pursuits. I also find that I have no clue what else is on or going to be on, consequently no clue what I might be missing, but that's okay with me. 

Spill it, reader. Some gratitude or your thoughts on watching TV. Or animal parades. Whatever's on your mind.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

musings on my last day before going back to work

I'm thankful to work in a district where they give us most of our inservice time to work in our rooms instead of slog through days of meaningless meetings. I have only a half day's worth of meetings--imagine!
When I write "district" it makes me think of The Hunger Games.  Such an industrial-sounding word.
Naturally the tomatoes I planted will be fully ripe NEXT WEEK after I'm up to my armpits in school work. It's not fair to be a teacher and a gardener. The two simply do not mix well.
And then there are the pears which will continue for another week and a half. I lug coolers of pears everywhere I go. So far people welcome the donations. I fear someday, however, folks will start edging towards the nearest exit when they see me dragging a cooler into the room.
Big dilemma: knock off a couple fall cleaning chores early today or finish Laura Lippman's Hush Hush?
But it's cold, so the hammock will NOT be fun today.
Decided: will ignore the boys' bathroom for another week and let A deal with it when she starts cleaning for me again.
Managed to schedule Mr. B's physical an hour before his first cross-country practice. Talk about cutting it close, eh?
Team Testosterone and I took a road trip north to Lake Superior last weekend. We mostly had a blast, though the driving got a little long a couple of times. We explored a few beaches, hiked, biked but the kayaking didn't work out. Too much wind created a small craft advisory and we had to cancel. Bummer, because those sea caves are really cool looking, but we'll have to head back some other time.
We got to meet Jocelyn! She was super nice, her family was delightful and she lives in the prettiest house you can imagine with all kinds of nooks, crannies and cubby-holes. And get this: her neighborhood has a private beach on Lake Superior! She and Byron and Paco brought us down to experience it, the guys lit paper lanterns and sent them into the heavens while Jocelyn and I chatted about families, work, blogging, writing and so forth. Time flew, as it always does when you are in good company. I'm so glad we drove the distance to do that.
I never finished the project in my fenced-in garden. Yesterday I prepared it a bit more, but the clock is ticking. If I don't get cracking by Saturday, forget it.
Do I put this blog on hiatus until Christmas break or make a feeble attempt to post once or twice a month?
I never developed any photographs from our Yellowstone vacation. Photographs make my head and stomach hurt--I don't enjoy the processing and labeling and putting into albums. But I like looking at the pictures. Such a conundrum. So much guilt.
I wonder which student will make me cock an eyebrow first next Tuesday.
I can't wait to see how my classes do with my New! Improved! curriculum.  
Decided: if my room is a subzero freezer again I am skipping all the administrative pipeline and going directly to the nearest custodian and beg for their help. I'm handing this and this to them. Whatever it takes, I will NOT suffer frostbite in my classroom. Will teach in cafeteria or commons area if necessary.
I hope it's easy to get moving tomorrow morning when my alarm goes off.
I bet it will be--I'm pretty excited to go back to school.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

wrapping stuff up

Congratulations, Becky over at Chicken Wire & Paper Flowers! You've won a copy of Kim Kasch's new YA novel Demon's Ink! Email me your address and I'll get that book mailed to you (or your daughter--or both of you can read it)!

Speaking of good reads, the Bumble Book Club will meet this week to discuss The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry.  Amazing work. I loved it and will re-read it. If you are a reading kind of person, this book will resonate with your soul.  I've been gobbling down books like crazy this summer, making up for the dry months of teaching when all I get to read is required stuff.  I've plowed through murder mysteries, literary fiction, nonfiction and even some kid fare. Anyone else read Masterminds by Gordon Korman? Phenomenal. My kids were waiting for me to finish so they could get their paws on it.  Only a couple weeks of break remain, and I've got my pile o' books waiting to get gradually diminished.  

Today's a banner day at my house. Team Testosterone gets to go to WWE Smackdown tonight. I just finished revisions on my new novel and sent it to the publisher.  We nailed down a date for Mr. T's Eagle Court of Honor ceremony.  Arrangements have been made for the last big hurrah of summertime--kayaking and hiking around the Lake Superior shoreline. I've had that on my bucket list for some time now, I keep reading about how lovely it is and plus it would be cool to experience each of the Great Lakes, right?  I mean, why limit myself to Lake Michigan?  And there's a bonus involved in my Lake Superior adventure, stay tuned to hear more about that.

I also sent some details about my next book's cover design to the illustrator.

This illustrates why I don't create my own cover design. Words? Yes. Pictures? Notsomuch.

With all that to celebrate, it almost seems mean to make the kids clean the basement this afternoon while I kick back in the hammock, doesn't it?

Saturday, August 15, 2015


Years ago I witnessed my grandmother help my great-grandmother downsize from her house to a nursing home. This move involved much emotional distress and the sale of most of her possessions to strangers via a garage sale. A decade later I watched my mother-in-law coordinate her mother's move to a nursing home.  It was heartbreaking to watch her cull through all of her mother's possessions, from hairpins to needlepoint projects. She tried to foist her mother's life off to her children, but at the end of the day, no one had much use for most of her mother's stuff.  By then the grandchildren were each married with households of their own, the hand-me-downs had passed their prime.  A lot of her possessions got carted off to a dumpster or a thrift store, because at the end of one's life, where do you go with all the things? The hairspray and ironing board, the good china and the everyday coffee cups, the bell collection and craft supplies and extra screwdrivers and batteries and the economy-sized box of garbage bags because they were a heck of a deal on sale that day.

This past month I watched the entire process play out again, this time my parents, aunts and uncle moved grandma to an assisted living apartment.  It was a forced move, grandma was not on board with the decision, she'd insisted on maintaining her independence for too long, but she really wasn't independent anymore. She required more help than she was willing to admit, and she didn't arrange the logistics make her stay tenable. I'm reading The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, a book full of many truths and this line resonated: "The last owner had died there--she hadn't wanted to leave, but she hadn't done much to maintain the house in the last fifty or so years either."
That line sums up the truth of grandma.

To say she went kicking and screaming to assisted living would be hyperbole, but she did cry and resist to the degree a very frail 93-year-old woman requiring a walker for mobility is able. Grandma had dug in with no plan to leave. She had buried herself in a pile of material goods and possibly forgot she'd obtained all these things; or as she became less mobile and restricted to fewer and fewer square feet of living space, never ran across most of her stuff any longer, out of sight, out of mind. By the time she moved out, she was really shuffling between four rooms of her entire house, less than fifty feet across from bed to couch to bathroom to kitchen sink. Oh, it was sad to walk through her house after she'd been moved out.  Dozens of bottles of hair supplies, many packages of stationery, hundreds of trinkets and baubles--several still in their original plastic packaging, shoes that no longer fit, broken fishing equipment and stacks of magazines. All of it left behind--and for what purpose?

And then, so suddenly, she died.  Her family began sifting through the remnants of her life, the collections and hidden secrets, the strange stash of plastic drinking straws (5 packages of them!) and paper napkins, the expired jars of pickles and the piles of receipts and statements and correspondence. Her whole life laid out for everyone to pick apart and then, whatever remained, sorted through again by estate appraisers and eventually divvied up and sold to the highest bidder. Every box, drawer, cupboard, nook and cranny is exposed and disposed of.

That's what it comes to.  We really can't take it with us when we leave.

No joke, someone will have to go through all this when I'm gone.

Watching people cling so hard to their habits and possessions for naught haunts me.  Someday my children and their partners and possibly their children, too, will pick through the detritus of my life.  They'll donate my books and clothes, toss the contents of my freezer into the trash and divide the family heirlooms among themselves.  Will they know the story behind the hutch in the library? Will they care to keep their great-grandfather's lunch bucket or great-great-grandmother's Irish crystal? Or will they feel like they have enough of their own stuff and pass it over? I want to believe I'll give away my good stuff in a timely manner, so the recipients can appreciate and use things before they become "junk."  I pray that I downsize enough before I go so that my offspring won't have to discuss renting a dumpster to haul away my crap and make teasing jokes about the ridiculous things they'll find--old lists, cancelled stamps cut off envelopes, a jar of old screws just in case.

But mostly I hope that I'm proactive and choose to spend my last days living in a way that is productive and not burdensome to others. I hope that when I die I haven't become irrelevant, but that I am still contributing to the world around me in a meaningful way.  I'd like people to say that about me, "She will be missed because she volunteered so much and gave so much--what a loss." I can't take anything with me, but I can control to some degree what I leave behind. Because when we're gone, we're reduced to this--the pile of stuff we've acquired, our relationships, good and bad deeds, whatever we create and whatever we consume. "For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that." 1 Timothy 6:7-8

And speaking of leaving behind--don't leave without writing comment in the comment box! Each comment is an entry to win a copy of Kim Kasch's new YA novel Demon's Ink.  I'll pick a winner on Monday!
Oh the irony! A post about purging our lives of our stuff--and giving away stuff! Ah, but you can pass the book along to another reader when you finish it, right?

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

little devils

Congratulations, Jen on the Edge! You won Martinis & Motherhood!  My staff will get that sent out to you STAT.  You'll find another book giveaway at the end of this post, so keep reading.

After Grandma P's funeral Friday, Team Testosterone drove to Iowa for Mr. D's annual golf weekend with friends and family. I caught up with them on Saturday, returned home Sunday (because I had to retrieve Jax from doggy daycare) and then Team Testosterone returned home Monday--with a couple cousins in the mix! So, all week I have the company of Mr. T, Mr. B, Mr. J, Mr. G and Mr. B--FIVE boys, ages 9-16. Or as I like to call them, little devils.

Right now they caught some crawfish from the creek and Mr. T lit a fire in the pit so they can cook them for lunch. Oh hush, I tossed them a package of hot dogs and a bag of buns to supplement the crawfish lunch. They also have stuff to make s'mores. I'm not heartless.  On the crawfish front, they really don't know what they're doing, but it's pretty entertaining to watch. They also get muddy, swim it off, get muddy again, snack, fight, shoot airsoft guns, fight, swim, play with spray paint, fight, fish, fight and eat some more. Will it be a long week? Perhaps.  I tried to book some activities to balance the "togetherness" so nobody ends up with a bloody nose (though we have a wasp sting thus far and a blister).  Tonight we'll go to a Timber Rattler game, tomorrow the EAA museum, Thursday Door County to play in Lake Michigan. Consequently, I won't be writing much this week.
Team Testosterone, two cousins, one neighbor kid

They're actually pretty good kids--I just had to place some limits on FIRE and FISTS and BB GUNS.  The real joy is watching the memories they're making together.

And speaking of little devils, the book giveaway! Fellow EcoWoman and bloggy pal Kim Kasch has her debut YA novel out! Demon's Ink is fresh off the press and I'm sending one to a lucky commenter!

Drake and Bartos come to the Pacific Northwest, where they open yet another tattoo shop but Bartos has no trouble dealing with the competition because there’s nothing normal about his art. And he’s stealing more than clients from the local skin artists. He's stealing their souls.
Customers fall in love with Bartos Slinderman’s tats but end up paying the ultimate price for their purchase because unlike Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray, they can’t walk away from this art and it’s beautiful until the artwork takes on a life of its own...

Sounds wickedly good, doesn't it?  My body's a tat-free zone (mainly because I was flat broke when I was young and thought it might be a cool thing to do), but I think that's an interesting comment topic. I've seen some gorgeous tattoos, ill-chosen tattoos, ugly ones, frightening ones and sweet ones, but ultimately there is nothing I love enough to imprint it permanently on my skin so I never got that Chinese-style dragon on my right shoulder blade (again, before you judge, I was twenty when I thought that was a good idea).

Spill it, reader. Any ink on your skin?