Sunday, April 16, 2017


Wisconsin has evolved from white to grey to muddy brown and at last it turned green and yellow all around--daffodils, forsythia, grass and spikes of tulip bulbs shoot forth. Ducks, geese, robins and cranes are chirping and whooping it up from the tree branches and the wetlands. I lay on the lawn after wrestling out the wasted peony stalks from last season and watched the clouds drift by. A hawk sailed past. Then a bald eagle slowly circled overhead. A huge toad jumped past my feet when I opened the gate to the vegetable garden. I moved out of its way and admired the clump of rhubarb coming back to life. I scowled at the mess in the asparagus bed and decided to save that chore for another day.
obligatory show-off shot of one healthy clump of daffodils.

The countdown for the seniors in Room 212 has begun. The weeks that remain will be regularly interrupted with Advanced Placement testing, the class trip to Great America, the local fire chief's annual safety talk and various concerts and sporting events. How this year sped past--the class of 2017 is one of my favorites to date and of course time flies when it's a good year. My "spring break" (the quotes indicate that it's a couple days off, not a full week as most folks enjoy) gave me the opportunity to catch up with all the grading (a temporary state) and track down black thread for the Vietnam simulation activity coming up in two weeks. English 12 exits the stage after a unit of war literature, which everyone enjoys and one boy told me, "Fallen Angels is a great book. I just wish you'd teach it earlier in the year when we're all more into it."  I agree, but what to replace a high-interest unit with when Senioritis kicks in? Shakespeare? Research writing? So we end on the sobering note of wars fought and lives destroyed, but in these times history lessons should guide us as our misguided and ignorant leaders rattle their sabres and point proudly to their weapons caches. Bear this unit in mind next election, the one where you all can finally vote.

And the AP kids kick and squeal about Walden, but gradually come to comprehend the lessons it offers them before they take the leap to college life. Carpe diem! Simplify! Live deliberately and swim upstream if you must! Follow your own path! Go to the woods!  My one regret with them this year is that I didn't make copies of their first writing assignment so they could see how much they've improved. Next year.

Speaking of improvements, we had a brand new toilet installed upstairs. That wasn't on my wish list (neither was a new starter for the truck the previous week), but last weekend I noticed a discolored circle on the kitchen ceiling. By Monday morning we had a small puddle of water on the kitchen floor, dripping coming from the upstairs bathroom. The hero of the week, our plumber Andy, had the whole problem diagnosed and treated by the time I made it home from work. When I count the reasons I feel grateful, I am always listing "I have a guy for ..."  Plus the new toilet is sparkling white and not encrusted with a decade's worth of missed shots. You also need to know, dear reader, that I sprinted upstairs after school that day and beat Mr. G to be the first person to use it. I almost never use that upstairs bathroom--it's boy territory, fraught with issues. 

New toilet, new blooms, new energy. And a new book and author festival that yours truly is participating in at the end of the month. I gave a reading yesterday at a kickoff event (okay, reading is a generous word--I really blushed and stammered my way through chapter two of Across the River) and will teach a craft workshop on injecting humor into writing. I'm also cajoling and wheedling some of my Write Club kids to get on the stage and share their work to a broader audience that weekend. Can you believe Margaret Atwood will be there? And Wendy McClure! And Michael Perry, Sherman Alexie and A.S. King (who is my new favorite author)! If you're in the area, you have to check out UntitledTown.

Two nights ago I drove through town to drop off my son at his buddy's house. I glanced as one does through the windows of someone's lit-up house and saw a man and a woman move suddenly toward one another in an intimate way that suggested kissing or attacking would happen next. On my way back home I craned my neck to see inside that house--my curiosity had spiked--and there they were--waltzing!  The couple's clasped hands were raised to shoulder height and they moved back and forth in this terrific circle, I could practically hear Brahms, their bodies were so rhythmically dancing. Just when I think there are no surprises left in this place.  It was such a small moment to observe, but the idea that in this small town where nothing new ever happens something new and unusual was happening made my heart beat with more optimism than it has in months.

And then the daffodils bloomed a day later.

Sunday, December 4, 2016


Like Hillary Clinton, I've taken to regular hikes in the woods to clear my head and heart. I go to work Monday through Friday when it's dark, I leave work when it's dark, I spend my entire work day in a cinder block cell without windows. This takes its toll on a person.  Rumor has it that we might have a building referendum someday and I may just get a brand-spanking new high school to teach in--possibly before self-driving cars become common. Working in a room with windows sounds like such a luxury. I try to fathom the way a simple gift like access to daylight would make all of us feel at Happyland High.

Years ago in a previous teaching gig I moved from an old high school building to a brand new one. I had windows in both classrooms, but the new one offered storage in cupboards along the back wall. I don't lack for storage in Room 212, in fact I have so much space that I store other people's stuff for them. But a window! I told Mr. D that if we don't get a building referendum I might look into the logistics and cost of installing my own by myself. One whole wall faces outside, one runs along my neighbor, one borders the stairway and one leads to the hall. It was a sick, black-hearted person who designed an entire row of classrooms along an outside wall and denied them windows.  How could they not know people need light, daylight, sunlight, natural light? Especially in Wisconsin. Especially during winter. Especially when they're young and growing, but even when they're old and fading.

Speaking of Room 212, I decorated it this year for Christmas with the help of some students. People seem to really enjoy the gesture, it's the first time I've done this. One colleague stopped by and remarked that she liked it and it was "safe." I nodded and replied, "Yes, no paper hanging from the ceiling, not a fire hazard at all!"  She answered, "Actually, I meant that you hung red balls and snowflakes--it's not specific to any religion." That got me thinking about how much teachers have to consider, the line we constantly toe--what might offend? How far to push? Who might get pissed? If they do get offended or angry, do we get support or are we thrown to the wolves?

Yes, in a world where a self-declared white supremacist advises the president-elect, a high school English teacher must cautiously approach holiday decorating.  Then I turned around the next day and agreed with Sarah Palin.  Good grief, life has become confusing.

The first snow of winter came today. I made Mr. T drive us home from church so he could experience that with me in the passenger seat. New drivers and snow, I am cautious with my firstborn when it comes to the "firsts."

Second-born son and new kitten, Rose.

Kittens suck you in with their cuteness and make you give them a home.

Our cat, Rose, is a real slob with the litter box and water dish. Her gear is in the basement bathroom and I have to sweep up after her every single day. Violet was never such a pig (RIP, dear cat). I went to the store and bought Rose a trough for her litter, the kind one uses to mix concrete for bricklaying. It's much larger than a conventional litter box. No matter, she still kicks up a mess. I laid newspapers, they absorb the water from her dish across the room, but the litter ends up all over. Yesterday I bought a LED nightlight, swept up the basement, mopped the floor and reset the space for her. I theorized that maybe the cat was messy because it was too dark and she couldn't see.

For the first time since she moved in with us, I walked downstairs to find just a tiny bit of cat litter scattered across the tile floor. The paper beneath her water dish was soaked, but it seems I solved the litter box issue.Turns out that all Rose needed to function better with her litter box was a little light.

I just realized I may have written a metaphor here--something about a little light and solving problems and having hope.  Maybe that's enough if you think about it.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

a little more

gratitude before the Thanksgiving holiday kicks off and I find myself seated before a plate of turkey and mashed potatoes with gravy.  I'm blessed with so much goodness in my life.

I have some great friends--my writing group, the Bumbles, the Dames (and Gary!), fellow teachers. Knowing like-minded, interesting people makes life easier. They teach me a lot and give loads of encouragement.

Books. Always and forever books are my most favorite hobby.  So many elegant writers, gorgeous words, compelling stories to enjoy.  Reading never gets old for me. If anything, the more I read, the more I learn I don't know and the curious-er I become.

A wall of books, plus piles in every room of this house. Living the dream.

Though having gardens ranks a close second as far as hobbying goes. 

I'm thankful for my family, far-flung and those living under the same roof as me. 

A day off of work when I can wear pajamas all day and do what pleases me when it pleases me.  I don't have to wait for the bell to ring to use the bathroom today. I can wander around and eat or drink or read or putter at my leisure. I laid around in bed just relishing the stretched-out, cozy laziness for an extra hour and it didn't matter because I didn't need to go anywhere today!

Photo albums that remind me of special times.

Mr. G still has "soft blankey" from all those years ago.

My babies were once this small. Seriously glad I took pictures to remind me.
Smartwool socks.

I can't take it for granted that I live somewhere safe, healthy and full of opportunity.

A snug house on a cold, rainy day.

A reliable vehicle. I didn't always have that and the stress of it was exhausting.  It's great to hop in, turn key, hear engine start every. single. time.

Safe travels, reader, and enjoy your Thanksgiving however and wherever you spend it!

Sunday, November 20, 2016


That's what seemed to happen to the fine, warm weather and the time this week, anyway.  Boom!  Just like that it's Sunday and freezing outside.

The sweetness of life, however, continues in little ways.

My father is here and building a bookcase out of the piano parts.

My sister brought over a heckuva lotta delicious barbecue from her and her fiance's new business venture.

Incidentally, I don't have to make food for about a week now, thanks to leftovers.

A fellow writer landed an agent, another has launched her first book and the Bumble Book Club was a balm to my weary spirit Wednesday night.

I discovered the best hiking trail nearby that actually made me feel like I was near the mountains. (Like Appalachian foothills, anyway.) I need some mountain or beach therapy, not sure when that's going to happen, but nice to have a little substitute to trick my brain.

No papers to grade this weekend! I actually did get to the bottom of the pile on my desk. Every letter of recommendation, college essay, assignment and odd job has been satisfactorily wrapped up at the moment.

Finally, despite her best efforts, Rose did NOT hack up a hairball on the carpet last night.

Spill it, reader. Any little thing you're grateful for today.

Monday, November 14, 2016

quick thanks

because I have to grab kids from basketball practice in a few minutes.
1. The sweetest Freshmen girls in Write Club this year. I adored them. Too short a meeting tonight, but I felt blessed by their earnest and enthusiastic attitude towards writing creatively.
2. A good report from the physical therapist for Mr. T after school tonight--he has some strengthening exercises, but is cleared for running. The exercises will actually help him run better, too.
3. Seeing my friend Cindy who was subbing in the building today!
4. Got to the bottom of my to-do list at at school and am this close to cleaning off my desk and getting all the stuff filed!
5. Super moon.

Sunday, November 13, 2016


Giving thanks this Sunday for some treats:

1. Skillet breakfast with my family that also cleaned out some shelf space on our fridge as we emptied a half carton of eggs, remainder of a block of cheese and leftover ham. Much less clean up than making pancakes for breakfast, too.
2. Hearing how God is at work in Kosovo from a missionary at church today which encouraged me. God works in crisis. He's got this, all of it, the whole planet in his hands. (Not that we can't help, and we are called, nay, commanded to do our part to love on others, but it's reassuring to know humans aren't really in charge.)
3. On the way home from church, Mr. B started messing around with my phone and connected it to the truck so I can have hands-free phone calls with some blue-toothy voodoo magic. Clever, helpful boy!
4. N makes the most amazing and ginormous chocolate chip cookies. When I dropped off Mr. G to play with her son, she gave me one she'd just baked.
5. Happyland High's production of The Wiz made me aware of some pretty impressive talent in our student body. I'm glad I caught the matinee performance and could see their hard work pay off--they really make do with terrible facilities, too, which is to their credit.
6. Mild temps and less wind when I got home, so I snagged Mr. D and we took a hike. What weather! We traipsed for a couple miles and it felt good to stretch my legs and breathe the earthy smell of fallen leaves. We watched the moon rise, an impressive sight this week.
7. Last night I finally watched Captain America: Civil War while ironing laundry. Cap and the gang did not disappoint, it was wildly escapist entertainment. 

Saturday, November 12, 2016


All of us have experienced it at some point--that awful feeling of sitting on the bench while the rest of your team plays. It happens for various reasons: illness, injury, infraction, incompetence. There you sit, helpless, frustrated and maybe even a little angry and jealous while the game carries on without you. Your absence might go unnoticed, which confirms that you are, in fact, dispensable and replaceable.  That's a demoralizing thought, isn't it? Sometimes your lack of participation drags down the progress, and that can make you feel even worse. Powerless to affect any change, you're stuck cheering from the sideline, hoping other people can fill the gap you leave behind.  You're not there and your team flails and sometimes fails.

Maybe I've mentioned that Team Testosterone plays sports. Sometimes they're good and carry their team, make the winning play, step up as a leader. Sometimes they're on the bench, they're second string and can't make the play, they screw up, foul out or strike out. Regardless of their status, I try to be a good sport mama and cheer on their teammates and act sympathetic afterward.

We caught on a while back that team sports wasn't really Mr. T's sweet spot, but high school athletics are where the musically ungifted can make friends and participate in school culture, so we encouraged him to try out for cross country. (Band or choir or drama are out of the question for Team Testosterone, no talent whatsoever on the melodic front). Cross country is, as fans of The Middle know, the one sport where everyone makes the team. Not that Mr. T's a terrible runner, but there was no chance he'd get cut, right?

Had I known this when I was in high school, I might have tried out.

His freshman year he had a good season. He got his time down significantly, always came in the first third of all the JV runners at every meet, and the older guys on his team were terrific about taking freshmen under their wing and making the new kids feel like they belonged.  Mr. T signed up for track in the spring as a consequence.

His sophomore year we (Mr. T, his coach and his parents) set some higher goals and he actually trained a bit off-season and got his running times in the 19's. A spot on varsity could be within his grasp, provided he trained hard. Happyland High has a very successful and competitive cross country team. It would be no small achievement to make varsity. But to do that he'd have to shave about 2 minutes off his time.

The kid busted his ass. Mr. T ran six days out of seven all summer. He added a bit of weight training. He enjoyed a growth spurt that lengthened his legs and put a teeny tiny bit more meat on his bones. Then his junior season started.

About four guys on his team all ran within 20 seconds of each other, vying for one spot on the varsity squad. Mr. T was one of the four. He didn't make the cut for the first race. He didn't make the cut for the second race. His coach told us, "He's got the ability, but he doesn't have the confidence. He doesn't believe he can do it. It's all mental now." Anyone who has coached anything understands that this is indeed the most difficult part to coach. The mental game.

Something, some little synapse fired, some extra urging triggered his legs and lungs and by golly, that kid made the varsity team for the third meet of his season. Reader, if you could have seen the joyful smile on that kid's face when he came to tell me the times, oh, it was a glorious thing! He stood a little taller, carried himself a bit prouder. He got to wear the uniform, train and line up with the starters.

I watched Mr. T race his first varsity meet like this:

I admit it, I had a few doubts.

Frankly, I wasn't 100% certain Mr. T's success wasn't a fluke. As mentioned, Happyland High's got a competitive team, it wouldn't take much for anyone out of the gate to claim Mr. T's spot for the next meet. That's the thing about cross country, times don't lie. The fastest kids make varsity, even though everyone gets to race. No politics, no fudging stats, no weighing one part of performance against another. Cross country's about as cut-and-dried as competition gets.

Sometimes I'm really glad to be wrong. Reader, I was wrong. Mr. T remained on varsity for another meet. Then another. And he kept driving down his time. He hung steady in the low 19s, then the 18s, , the 17s were within his grasp. His team continued an undefeated surge--both boys and girls, varsity and JV. Mr. D and I jogged from spot to spot on golf courses and around football fields every week, breathlessly watching our kid hit his stride and run past us.  

This illustrates my point about the 4 guys all vying for position--look at them! The white tops are all from Happyland High!
And then in one of the final races of the regular season Mr. T's calf muscles knotted up and quit functioning. He courageously hobbled through a race that, in retrospect, he should've sat out. His coach sent him to the athletic trainer. Mr. T wore ice packs, used crutches, took ibuprofen and stayed off his bad leg. A week went by. He sat out the final race before conference. Teeth gritted, he tried running on the track for practice and even the slowest girls on the JV team were beating him. "Rest," we told him, fairly certain he'd only strained something. His leg would heal in time for the races that mattered.

He sat out conference and cheered on his teammates. His coach left the spot open, hoping Mr. T would be back for sectionals, but alas. No such luck. The kid was sidelined for good. I went and cheered on the runners and watched my son want so badly to be one of them, watched him root on his friends while he limp-ran from spot to spot on the course.  A doctor examined his calf and explained that the knotted muscle was so deep and next to the bone that three more weeks of rest, heat and massage therapy would get him on an exercise bicycle, then in another couple weeks back to running.

I'm thankful, though. He will compete again, this injury is only a hiccup in his career as a runner. He has made the most wonderful friends through this sport, and any parent of older kids can appreciate the peace of mind that comes from your offspring making good choices in friendships. Mr. T and his cross country buddies are some of the absolute nicest kids you'd ever want to meet.  My kid dug deep and discovered he has the ability and competitive spirit to be successful in a sport. It's a blast watching my sons enjoy what they do, watching them succeed at stuff they love is just icing on the cake, right?

Even though he ended the season sidelined, I'm thankful for all that this year of cross country brought him.