Sunday, September 4, 2016

a fresh start

School started last week and things went quite smoothly for us. We were early every day getting to school, no one needed a last minute weird school supply and everyone stayed in fine spirits. We padded our schedule with football games, a cross country meet and a dozen bushels of sweet corn that Mr. D and I spent hours shucking, blanching and freezing. 

How fast did I hustle this week? Well, Mr. B grabbed my phone Thursday evening to check his Pokemon Go stuff and set it down with the game still loaded on the screen. I picked up my phone to check the practice schedule as I moved across the kitchen to deal with supper prep and looked down to see this:

That's right. I move so fast my phone thinks I'm DRIVING.

On a related note, my kids ran pretty fast in the cross country meet Friday. Mr. T's time (19.09) was a PR and landed him a varsity spot for the next meet. About 5 boys on his team are vying for position, their times are within 20 seconds of one another. It was pretty terrific for him to get a turn on varisty and take a minute off of last year's time on the course.  Mr. B beat Mr. G by a second and helped the middle school team take first in the meet (Mr. G helped the team by pushing his brother, who was not about to come in behind him).

The biggest change in our world is me being back to work full-time. What's new in Room 212 this year? A lot, as it happens.

* The temperature was warm, not the usual blasting frozen damp air. I even discarded my cardigan. We don't understand why the change happened, but warm beats cold ALL THE TIME so no one on the second floor will utter complaint.  The heating/cooling system in the building is a mystery on par with Stonehenge.  When it works in our favor we celebrate quietly and fervently hope that if we keep our heads down the temperature will remain pleasant.

* Books! I got discarded books from a colleague of mine in another district plus castoffs from my home library and my mom's AND I ordered new nonfiction for AP Language & Composition to read this year.

* The academic day is super fast-paced at Happy Valley High, and only 4 minutes between classes adds to the general feeling of frantic panic. This summer I read some articles about being mindful and intentional and to that end I have started each day by piping in some baroque tunes on the SmartBoard while leaving the morning announcements on the screen. The kids come in and focus and settle. Each day went VERY well, they were not hyper or crazy, the "off-task talk" was minimal by virtue of setting up a good learning environment. I need to do this in the afternoon, too, but this takes more effort with the mall amount of passing time built in. That music really settles the students.

* My class sizes are only slightly unbalanced, I have about 130 students this year which is a tolerable amount, unless I'm grading 10-page research papers. Then I become oddly happy about the student who doesn't turn in work, which we can agree is a wrong attitude. First hour is enormous, 30 students. I had to get desks from another classroom. But I'd rather start the day with a huge class than end it that way.

* Changed up the first day by making seniors do a Human Scavenger Hunt. Everyone got up, mingled, talked and seemed to have fun with it.  Wonder why I didn't think to do this sooner.

* Only saw one cell phone, but it was an allowable offense as student a) was not there the first day to hear my rule and b) was fact-checking the article our class was reading.

* Pretty solid class discussion Hours 1-6, 7 and 8 got pretty sketchy. Some dim bulbs in the room coupled with it being the end of the day will require creativity and skill.

* I like the girls this year, though not quite as much as last year's class. Yet. Things could change on that front. This pleases me.

* The boys are fine, most are very nice, but a few have mean spirits. This troubles me because others won't take risks if they know they'll get kicked if they're down. Will need to proceed cautiously as I work to identify and neutralize the kickers.

* The day before school started my principal pulled me aside to tell me I have a "regular RtI." I won't bore you with the back story on what that means, but the short version is this: I don't have to work with low-level readers for a half hour three times a week. Instead, I have a room of sophomores with a silent study period. That's right, my principal reduced my work load. I don't know what I did to merit this favorable schedule or why he gave me the break and not one of my colleagues, but IT IS AWESOME!

* Going into year 3 means a lot of my unit planning has been established, so I'm not coming up with as much from scratch and that makes my life easier. And calmer. Plus I can focus on other components besides curriculum development.

In this moment I'm enjoying the long weekend. The Badgers won, the weather is perfection, I have a great book to read in my hammock and few household chores to do.  We watched Kubo and the Two Strings last night at the drive-in, it was transcendent. Go see it if you have a chance.

Monday, August 22, 2016

"it'll be easy," they said

I'm in the middle of a major technology overhaul. It started last winter when my husband advised that his company was going to boot non-employees off their email. This coincided with more problems getting my emails, which created situations like showing up at cancelled events (didn't get the email) or bringing the kids late to last-minute rescheduled practices (didn't get the email). Heck, I'd go days unable to receive emails while people kept blithely sending them to me, unaware that I was inextricably out of the loop. If I wanted to resolve this issue, first I had to get a new email, because if I'm going to change things, by golly, it starts with a new address. Otherwise I'd have to go back and change everything again, right?

In the midst of all of this we had to convert to some kind of device to get cable TV (that we pay for and fortheloveofallthingsholywhywhywhy). I had to unplug cables and install new connections and fiddle around with remote controls. One behemoth TV set (in our living room--the one hooked into the Wii, stereo and speakers, Blu Ray and CD player--SO MANY CORDS!) gave me fits and I could not figure out which wiring led to what device. That TV set weighs more than your average sumo wrestler, so getting behind it to clearly discern what went where was physically impossible. I did the unthinkable: I told Mr. D just to buy a new TV and hire somebody to reconnect the works.

Seriously, the one person who hates TV and watches less than anyone in the household said, "Let's buy a new one."  Watching last night's closing ceremonies in Rio on that brand new flat screen TV set was awfully nice.

Meanwhile, it took Mr. D about 4 months to assign me a new email address, then another month to schedule a meeting with a tech at his office who would move my old emails and assorted information to the new account. It turns out that I've got to remember all the fifty-bazillion passwords and user names associated with every online account I like to use. Or not, as seems to be the case. As I move deeper into the technology upgrade, a tedious process of re-entering information for every single account, I get crabbier and crabbier. I sort of don't care if I don't get updates from eleventy-thousand accounts. Purging myself of all of these connections feels liberating.

Plus, I have to wait a week before my contacts get brought over, those got lost in the transition (saved in some mysterious file called 'back up' but lost to me until I can get an audience with the tech again).

The next step involved getting the email on my phone. Alas! My trusty old Samsung lacked capacity (and other qualities), so I had to get an iPhone. Two kinds of people inhabit the world of technology, I live in the non-Apple camp. Everyone kept encouraging me for years to come into the light, get the iPhone, get the iPhone and resistance now seemed futile. I used up one of my remaining open afternoons of summer (I picked a rainy one to lessen my resentment) and headed for the Verizon store, my old phone and contract in hand.

To her credit, the saleswoman didn't laugh at me (might have been because she recognized me as one of her old teachers). She told me how much I'd love my new phone and showed me the pretty colors, made me handle the floor model and demonstrated some of the nifty features. Thus began the upgrade.
I got the gold one.
I almost always lose something when I upgrade--there's a feature or function on the old model that makes the new model somehow less desirable. My old house was within walking or biking distance of everything I needed, my new house requires me to drive almost everywhere. Changing radio stations was easier in the old Momvan. The back pockets on my old jeans sat lower and made my butt look smaller. You know how it goes. I sat in the Verizon store anxious, ready to walk out the minute the saleswoman said something like, "Oops! Looks like your photos won't transfer over!"  It turned out to be my text messages that didn't transfer over. Text messages are meant to be temporary, so if a person texts me a great photo of my kids, shame on me for not saving it to an album file, right? I blame myself, kids, for losing your last baseball season.

I'll admit it, the new phone is nice. Soon it will have email, which will make my life faster, more efficient, etc. I'm still getting used to finding things and pressing the right parts of the screen to do what used to be intuitive and easy on my old phone.  This week I should get my contacts transferred into my new email account, then I can spend another afternoon informing people that my old email will soon be no good.

One final thing on the technology overhaul: get a new printer installed before school begins ... The old one requires me to carry my laptop to the kitchen, hook it up and hold the top down so that it will churn out a page properly. Plus, the darn thing needs ink ... At this point the upgrade seems worth the hassle, doesn't it?

And that, friends, is how I've spent most of the last month of my summer vacation.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

nailed it

It's all Olympics all the time these days. Our house is mad for swimming and gymnastics mostly, but Mr. G is chomping at the bit for the track and field events. Rugby's an exciting addition and who doesn't enjoy cycling? That was a nail-biter finish for the American women's team. I'm always inspired by the athletes' accomplishments and stories. It's awesome to watch people compete at such a high level. Then I dive in our pool and swim my own laps, my form sluggish and awkward by comparison. My backstroke is solid however, and it's easy to imagine how gracefully I cut through the water when I'm not keeping water out of my nose. (My butterfly stroke, on the other hand, looks tragic and causes Team Testosterone to ask if I need help getting out of the water.)

I swam through my childhood.  It was a good sport for a young asthmatic. The humid environment of a YMCA swimming pool kept my lungs from closing up and I got to stay active. Before one of our last family moves (from big city to small town before 9th grade) I even got a taste of a swim meet--I swam the backstroke and took 2nd place in the race. Then my family moved to a place without a swim team or a pool. We lived on a lake, so I took to swimming across the seaweed and bluegills instead of in a roped off lane with painted lines beneath the chlorinated water. Our neighbor was an older woman who swam daily in the summer. I remember her getting in the lake, her skin very tan against her white suit and swim cap over her bleached blonde hair. Char was in fabulous shape, a testament to the sport.

Two other trends I'm paying attention to in this Olympics: the cup marks and the fingernails. This is the first time I've noticed "cupping" even though I've heard of it. I wonder if it's a fad or if there's something to it.

But mostly I'm transfixed by those fingernails. All the athletes have funky manicures, even the ones from poor countries have bright designs on their fingertips. I haven't had a manicure since the day before my wedding two decades ago. I keep my nails cut short, they irritate the hell out of me when they get a millimeter too long. When did nail polish become the standard? I remember when people only painted their nails for special occasions, and most women painted their own. My grandmother was fond of a dusty mauve shade on her nails, my college pal who went on to become a nail artist painted her nails "Whore Red," "Whore Pink" or "Whore Purple" depending on her mood. But most people didn't really paint their nails much when I was younger.

As far as Olympic nails, the only person I remember making a fashion statement with her hands was the champion sprinter Flo-Jo--remember her?
She was SO flamboyant. And fast. I remember her hair, jewelry and those clawlike nails. She stood out in the crowd of sprinters, heck, of any athletes. I wondered how she did everyday things like dial a phone or wash dishes or sort laundry with those fingernails. How long do your nails have to be before they curl over like that? Do they get brittle? Gross-looking? Is that why she had to paint them?

But now the nail-painting is the norm. When did this change? Why? I'm fascinated and I watch each event distracted by the fingernails, looking for the paint job, appreciating how it expresses each athlete's individuality and spirit and nationalism. The next time I sit down to watch women's gymnastics I'll mentally supplement the commentary about their routines' difficulty and form. The Russian judge gave it a 7.965, taking that tenth of a point off for that extra step. I like how the colors on her nails match her leotard. Look at how she keeps her feet together the precision of each turn. Look how the glitter in the nail polish sparkles, too! Here's a difficult combination, even accomplished athletes never attempt a triple handspring on the floor, let alone a balance beam three feet in the air. Ah, she's got a contrasting design on her ring finger. Nice touch. There's the buzzer, time's running short. She stuck the landing! Nailed it! Team USA continuing to dominate this event! 

You can read more exhaustive coverage on Olympic manicures here.

 Spill it, reader. Do you watch Rio 2016? What's your favorite event? Are you stuck on the nails, like me?  Or are you just swooning over the Brazilian men's gymnastics team?

Monday, August 1, 2016

good dog

Jax had been a stray dog on an Indian reservation when Animal Control picked him up and sent him south to the city where he was placed on the adoption roster at the Humane Society (official breed: Flat-Coated Retriever Mix). Furry and eager, he sniffed his way cautiously into the "meeting room" and within minutes his tail was wagging.  His past and true age were a mystery, but we knew he was at least 5 years old (in Dog Years) and fearful of sticks and loud noises.  We ascertained these last two facts through observation.  I grabbed a broom a few days after he joined our household and that dog cringed into a corner.  Same thing happened if you grabbed a shovel or anything else with a long handle.  During target practice when the boys shot guns, Jax would burrow between my legs and he really hated fireworks. Definitely not a hunting dog, Jax wouldn't play fetch either, no matter what we offered him.

But he loved people. He loved a good scratch behind the ears, rub on his belly and, towards the end when his arthritis got bad, he liked his butt and hips massaged. Jax enjoyed human attention in the form of petting, patting, scratching and talking.

This good dog had lovely manners. He never nipped or bit or chewed on things he wasn't supposed to. He didn't sniff crotches and he'd been trained by somebody to poop in the weeds at the edge of the yard, so it wasn't until a couple summers ago that we had to start cleaning up after him (nothing says love like a Jax Patty right below the clotheslines, right?). Jax didn't bark much, either. True, this made him worthless as a watchdog since he'd likely nuzzle a stranger to death rather than announce their arrival, but his silence was a blessed thing. He generally only barked when something was Very Wrong. Like the time he fell in a hole the boys dug and he couldn't get out.

As mentioned, Jax wasn't much for hunting, but he was phenomenal at scavenging. He was under the impression that an object wrapped in plastic packaging was probably edible, so he'd tear into anything plastic-wrapped.  Charcoal briquettes. Packages left by the UPS guy. Potting soil.  Shopping bags. On one occasion, he got into a friend's minivan (the door was open) and Jax pulled free an entire shopping bag of Halloween candy--and started digging into those individually-wrapped nuggets of sweetness one by one. Jax couldn't read, so he probably didn't mean to rip open all of those bags, but he did, and he'd abandon the inedible things in a pile of damp, shredded plastic wrap.  Of edible things wrapped in plastic he left no trace.

Before we got recycling bins assigned to us by the town, Jax used to troll the sides of the county highway looking for snacks. His favorite treasure was empty cans of Bush's Baked Beans, which I'd find every week by the propane tank in the back yard. Jax would enjoy different treats in specific spots around the yard. Nearly empty jar of Nutella? Beneath the basketball hoop.  Juicy bone? Front yard beneath the Honey Locust, or back yard below the maple. A bit of a slob, he'd leave the containers scattered around the yard--milk jugs, beer cans, peanut butter jars.

When he wasn't scavenging for human food or kibble, he'd eat whatever dead stuff he could find, like when our neighbor would shoot a deer and hang it in a tree, Jax would show up to gnaw on the carcass. (Sorry, Gary! Hope you didn't plan to mount that one!) He found a dead deer in the woods a few winters ago and brought it up one frozen chunk at a time to the front yard where he chewed on it--that "Deersicle" gave him worms, we suspect.  The random carcass parts found here and there perpetuated the myth that a monster coyote or wolf lived in our woods. Heck, that dog even enjoyed a mouthful of cat litter, given the opportunity.

However, if food wasn't available, Jax was content to lie down and watch the world pass by. He'd nap in sunny spots on the porch or dig into a cool patch of dirt behind the house in hot weather.  He was a gentle spirit, never jumped up on little kids and would allow the timid neighbor children to pet him and get used to a giant, hairy beast. Jax never growled or licked or moved fast around those children, he seemed to understand their fear and he'd be as still as possible, looking at them with his doleful brown eyes. A nocturnal creature, Jax would make the rounds of the neighborhood, standing on people's back patios, looking in on them having supper. Perhaps he was trying to beg off their plates, but nevertheless he'd give the V kids a thrill when they'd look up and find him by their door.

They say a cat has nine lives, but Jax probably did, too. His Indian reservation experience aside, Jax ran away from home a few times, got picked up by the cops, got hit by a police car (it was scavenging night--the neighbor's recycling bin was out by the curb and the poor police officer couldn't see our black dog at night on a blacktopped road) and got sprayed by a skunk. He had a healthy curiosity, in his earlier years he'd bound along beside me in the woods, sniffing and exploring nooks and crannies. He'd trot up the driveway to greet any car pulling up to the house. He'd follow me around the garden when I'd work, checking out the strawberry patch and so forth before plopping down in the shade until I'd move, then he'd follow me again.

Also notable: Jax is also the only member of our household to successfully complete a weight loss program. Two winters ago he'd gotten fat, almost 12 pounds over his healthy weight. Coupled with weak hips and arthritis, the weight was slowing him down and making it tough to exercise, resulting in weaker muscles ... you know how the cycle works.  Anyway, I got tough with the family and we stopped dropping table scraps in his dish and put him on "weight management kibble" while forcing him to walk a little more. That dog lost 12 pounds and kept it off!

No question about it, Jax was a good dog. Gentle, lazy, sweet and always hungry. Loyal and faithful, friendly and handsome.  Mr. D buried him yesterday morning at the edge of our back yard.  It's going to take some getting used to not seeing that black lump on our front porch every day. 

We won't ever forget you, Jax. Good dog.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

family five

Some people (Common Household Mom and Spokalulu) posted a Family Five and it inspired me to write, too.

1. I received the call for jury duty (again). Two days last week, two days this week, one day next week. This has completely jacked up any plans I'd made. It also prompted a lot of questions from Mr. G. He wanted to know: What's the case? What happens if you just say "guilty" no matter what? Why do you have to be on a jury? What happened to all the judges? What do you say if you want to get out of it? Can you decide to execute them if they're guilty? Do you have to wear a robe and one of those funny wigs? Where do you go to be on a jury? What happens if you don't agree on the verdict? Do you have to say if they're guilty or not guilty in front of the person?  Jury duty has been educational for our family. The jury duty I got luckily excused from last spring involved a murder trial that lasted two weeks. So far I've gotten off of having to serve 3 days out of the 5.

2. Mr. T is at camp. It took him 20 minutes to pack for the week. He couldn't wait for a week off of his 40-hour-a-week-job and his cross-country training regimen. Everybody deserves a little break from the regular routine.

3. Mr. G and Mr. B keep filling the pool with friends and, coincidentally, emptying the fridge and pantry. Their baseball season is over now and they have 2 weeks free before middle school football begins.

4. Mr. D went to a golf benefit and brought home yet another wagon full of beer. (Actually, this year he told them to keep the wagon for next year and only brought home the beer.  He always seems to win this beer wagon prize.)  Most of the beer is micro brews from southern Wisconsin. Who drinks all the weird beer in this household? ME. I am set through fall with cases of beverages brewed by Capital, New Glarus, Ale Asylum, and Wisconsin Brewing Company.  I like the dark stuff best, so I'm especially looking forward to opening a bottle of this one:

5. I've been really good at sticking to my writing goals for the summer. I think it helped that I didn't set my weekly goal too high (as I am wont to do--I like to overachieve in the planning stages of most projects). I have a good sense of the big picture, which gives me a direction to go. The devil will be in the revisions, but that's often the case for fiction writing.

Spill it, reader. Something about your summer--beers you've drunk, books you've read, games you've watched, whatever.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

for laughs

It's hot, sticky and people are a little wrung out around here today.  Instead of becoming a crabass (like love, owlyness is a CHOICE, people), I'm giggling at a couple of things:

This extreme depiction of mother-shaming

I know I'm late to the Curtis Sittenfeld party, but Eligible is a HOOT!

This didn't make me laugh, but it made me happy!  I remember the jokes printed on the bottoms of the cans!   I grew up drinking this, but I guess I never realized it was a Wisconsin beverage. Mr. D never heard of it.

Speaking of jokes at the bottoms of cans, here's one for you: What do you call a cow with no legs?
Ground beef!

I laugh, yet feel oddly connected to this:

Spill it, reader. What's making you chuckle lately?

Friday, June 24, 2016

hustle & bustle

Warning: The content of this post will likely disappoint those of you expecting me to write about con artistry and women's fashions from the 1800's.

The Screw Iowa Writers Workshop is coming to Wisconsin this year! On Monday I go retrieve my writing group (sans Nina, who is in China with her beloved husband this time) and we have a full week together. Team Testosterone is giving up their bedrooms upstairs for their aunties, which has meant tidying up and airing out that adolescent funk smell. Laundry and dusting, scrubbing of bathrooms and sweeping of porches have taken place. People say there's nothing like hosting a party to make you get stuff done, and that's the truth around here.

I'll run to the grocery store on Sunday after church and pick up all the essentials.  Monday I'll strip the boys' beds and remake them, then shuffle them off to the basement where they'll camp for the week. Wednesday I'm hosting an open house for anyone interested in meeting these swell writers.  (Locals: my house, 6:30-9:30, feel free to drop by! We'll have wine, beer, soda and munchies.  Books will be for sale, as well.) 

My annual week with these women is a balm to my spirit. I rarely get to discuss writing on the same level with other people in everyday life, most of my friends are readers only. I'm excited to hash out everyone's current projects and discover the feedback they'll give me on mine (the sequel to Across the River).  They always teach me so much and I walk away inspired to tackle whatever I'm working on.  Plus,I can't wait to find out the minutia going on in their lives, talk about politics and art and books. And I'm excited to finally host these women and give them the same royal treatment I've always enjoyed at their homes.

I've written up a short list of day trip options so they can experience the best of The Dairy State during their visit. Wisconsin has a wealth of summer offerings, including iconic experiences like a Friday night fish fry.

What else is new here? Mr. T has his first job and is learning to really appreciate free time after working 40 hours a week. Having a job has made him infinitely more pleasant from my end, and every day he comes home with a story that has made me belly laugh. He's a summer custodian at the elementary school, so scrubbing desks and unloading classrooms got added to his skill set. Mr. B is fishing and hanging out with buddies, going to wrestling camp and experiencing growth as a ballplayer while his team loses a lot. Mr. G's doing the same thing (with less fishing, more sports).  We've had some frustrated baseball players around here this summer, but you don't learn as much from winning, so the long-term benefit will come. 

It's funny how low-key this place has become. With Mr. T driving, I don't have to run every errand myself anymore. Mr. G can walk himself over to summer school and Mr. B's pals are free-range on our country block thanks to their ATVs. The other day I pulled weeds and listened to the younger two in the pool with their buddies. Half of the crew has lower voices now and everyone is tall enough to look me in the eye. I can't believe how these kids keep changing before my eyes, thickening and lengthening and each heading in their own direction. Their shoes take up all the floor space in the laundry room and they sure can EAT.

I also took a hike around our entire property, then hooked onto the trail around the wetland behind us. Thanks to that wetland, our woods doesn't flood like it used to, though the creek is still really high right now. It was great to have access to our land and thanks to the wind, I wasn't bugged by any mosquitoes or flies. The eagle's nest has 3 eaglets, I scared up 2 fawns, several squirrels and something that rustled and scurried off into the undergrowth--raccoon? opossum? turkey?  I tromped and inhaled the rich, cool smell of the woods and the hot, sweet smell from the clover blooming in the fields. Everything is blooming right now.  We've had a number of thunderstorms blow through in the past couple weeks, but have experienced minimal tree damage. Only one large tree had fallen across the path, but Mr. D will take his chainsaw out to deal with it this weekend.

Among the other noteworthy blessings:
our well tested negative for arsenic, so we get to keep it.
the mosquitoes have been scarce.
nights have been cool--we haven't turned on the AC yet.
some lovely reviews on Across the River.
I get to help teach some terrific 3rd graders every Sunday morning (bonus: I'm reading in my daily devotions exactly the same sections we're studying on Sundays--OT stuff, Ruth last week, Hannah this week).
my friend Jocelyn published THIS!
Mr. G got a 1 year delay on any orthodontist visits.
our neighbors' Breakfast on the Farm event went perfectly.
a tall stack of summer reading material.
dinner out with Mr. D's friends visiting from Iowa last Saturday night--the sweetest couple and fun to catch up with them.

Spill it, reader. What's got you hustlin' this month?