Friday, January 16, 2015

slam books

We're reading The Crucible in English 12.  I have 30 copies.  A classroom set.  This means all the reading takes place in class because with 96 students there aren't enough copies for each student to have their own.  It's a play.  That's fine.  We're reading it out loud anyway.  Besides, the school board in the Happyland School District is all about thrift and frugality so 30 copies is what you get, and that's 10 more copies than the other plays sitting in the book cupboard.  (Seriously.  Thrift and frugality are the baseline for 99.3% most of the decisions they make.)

In previous years students must have had their own copies when reading The Crucible.  Their names are written on the inside cover, in cursive, in print, in ink, in pencil.  I didn't ask my students to write names in the books because:
a. I don't have a seating chart
b. Two of the six hours I teach are not reading The Crucible, so they get stacked to the side throughout the day which means they move around the room
c. They can't take the books home anyway.

But a few students did write their names in the books.  And then a few other students added their opinions of these students and within a couple days I noticed a trend of kids eagerly opening their books to the inside covers to read what had been added or written.  They showed each other.  They laughed.  Some of the kids wrote more stuff (presumably).  Some took pictures with their gaming /phone/camera/bane of my existence devices. Today I heard people reading out loud what had been written in some of the books.

Cruel things.
Mean things.
Vulgar things.
Unimaginative things.

It made me think of those slam books from my youth.  The slam books documented by Judy Blume.  The slam books I figured were long gone and the only harassment I needed to keep a vigilant eye out for was the online kind. I did NOT expect this.


I spent 20 minutes today during my only prep period erasing and whiting out inside covers.  They're seniors, immature and stupid, senseless and self-absorbed.  With the books moving around the room it's impossible to track down the offenders and I'm not about to start witch hunt (although, it would be fitting, no?).  Instead I'll have to verbally warn each class and check the insides of the books each hour to make sure nothing new gets written.  I guess I'll treat the situation like graffiti.  Scrub out every shred of it so no one feels empowered to add to it--that's usually the best approach.

Inside I'm groaning, though.  It pisses me off to deal with something so stupid and dumb and petty and hateful when I have a million more important ways to spend my time lately.  I feel bad for the kids who got "slammed" but I think the damage was minimal--the comments were generic enough that it doesn't qualify as intentional harassment. 

So, the frazzled lady in Room 212 working overtime with a stack of papers to grade, a final exam to write, two units of curriculum to plan, and a mound of red tape paperwork to file so she can prove she's an effective teacher?  She'll be opening 30 book covers at the end of first, third, fifth and sixth hours to prevent future harassment and keep the school district's property in good shape for years to come. 

If I wrote a slam book it might read like this:

The senior class is:
mostly funny
sometimes stupid
very irritating
not as clever as they think they are
likeable (usually)
too loaded with boys

Ugh.  What a cruddy grumpy post after a two-week hiatus!  Let's try this again with something cheer-inducing.

This year's Oscars:
biased towards the Brits (but they totally deserve it)
mostly white
annoying because The Lego Movie got snubbed
funny because my secret gay boyfriend is hosting!
better not run late because I'll have to work in the morning

Spill it, reader.  Write the slam book entry with me. 

© 2014 Melissa Westemeier All Rights Reserved

Sunday, January 4, 2015

fluffy stuff

At last we got the snow we needed around here.  After Saturday morning yoga, I commanded Team Testosterone to shovel the driveway and then asked who was coming to the woods with me. Thirty degrees, no wind, fresh snow--seriously, who would miss out on that trifecta of winter awesomeness?

Mr. G and I bundled up and flew out--we've been cooped up too long.  We ran and tossed snowballs at each other with abandon until we hit the treeline.  The rain we got in November never soaked into the ground, instead it flooded the creek and the surrounding woods.  Now that water is frozen solid, the entire woods has become a skating rink. It's the most terrific and terrible thing we've seen back there.  Terrific because we have a 20-acre skating rink!  Terrible because we don't really skate.

In a strange turn of events, Jax followed us on our hike and since his hips are bad (and he's fat), we tried to find a path that wasn't too slick.  When that dog loses his footing, he's down for the count and the only way he's getting up is if Mr. D comes along to lift him back onto all fours--and that's no treat since a dog in pain is unpredictable and a little scary with its yelping.

Of course poor Jax went down just before we reached the grassline where it would be safe for him to walk.  Mr. G ran back up to the house to find Mr. D while I sat comforting our moaning mutt.  Our boy is 15 pounds overweight and lazy, so he's just begun a diet and we set up a walking schedule.  Jax hasn't willingly followed us too far in about a year, the trick is to put him on a leash and sort of drag him for his daily exercise.  I have to confess, I was surprised he followed us to the woods in the first place!  Here his compensation for voluntary exercise was to slip and land sprawled out, unable to get up. 

After a couple tries, Mr. D got Jax on all fours and we v e r y  c a r e f u l l y stepped our way to less treacherous turf.  Mr. D and Jax continued back home while Mr. G and I ventured further into the wilderness.

Glorious winter!  We knocked through some thin ice and discovered the most beautiful crystals beneath the smooth, glassy side.  A herd of six deer raced across the field.  We identified mice, raccoon, deer and turkey tracks in the snow.  We made snow angels and attempted a snow T-Rex (looked more like a snow blob) and we admired the patterns in the branches above our heads.  Mr. T came out for a while, too, and remarked on the perfection of the trees, the creek and the snow.  We skated, skidded and slid across the endless ice in our winter boots.

Today I'm achy and bruised a bit from falling on that ice.  I even bumped the back of my head when crossing the creek on a downward slope  (Mr. G and I actually had to crawl back up to get home, it was that slick!).  Jax has also recovered, he bounded up to greet us when we returned to the house.  I've no idea if that ice has any chance of melting before winter's end, but perhaps we'll get enough snow layered atop the ice to make it easier to move around back in our woods.  Whatever happens, it's a guarantee that spring will be a sloppy mess back there.

All said, we had a blast in the fluffy stuff.  I felt lucky to enjoy it with my sidekick. 

Spill it, reader.  Any winter trekking in your neck of the woods?

 © 2014 Melissa Westemeier All Rights Reserved

Thursday, January 1, 2015

taking stock

Did anyone make it to midnight?  I almost did.  Curled up under the sheets, half asleep, book tumbling out of my hand I believe I turned off my light around 11:49. This morning I have my 2014 bucket list* beside me.  Last year was a mix of success and failure. In the interest of full disclosure, here's the lowdown on last year before I write my 2015 bucket list:

I published Kicks Like a Girl,and despite not marketing it (due to working full-time--which you'll soon see is a Major Theme and Excuse for 2014), sold a reasonable number of copies. The book turned out well, I'm proud of the quality and the reader response was enthusiastic.  I didn't finish edits on another manuscript as I had intended. Getting hired full-time (see?) put a cramp in my writing time, so I should be gentle to myself on that count, right?

Speaking of failures, I didn't complete my plan to run around our country block.  I trained and nearly got to that point, but knee issues knocked that goal off the page.  I did participate in a 5K--the Dirty Dog Mud Run with Mr. T (which barely counts, but I DID finish it).  Shed Yoga continues, that's something affirming on the fitness end of life.  In fact, a few new people plan to join our little Saturday morning yoga class this weekend.

The fix-it list got knocked down to one item (pesky doorknobs!).  I repainted two rooms, fixed broken stuff and got the greenhouse going. I haven't given the greenhouse project the attention I'd like, something that should change next year when I'm done working overtime (more excuses), but at least it's functional.  Team Testosterone took a couple of road trips and we managed to squeeze in four cultural experiences, including their first musical--Bye Bye Birdie.  I got to visit Concord, Massachusetts and take a dip in Walden Pond but I didn't get far north enough to meet Jocelyn. I DID get to Skype with Cheri, Suzanne, and Stephanie, so that was pretty cool--and I'd met Mary IRL but got to Skype with her, too.

2014 is the first year I didn't accomplish my bucket list, but I got hired out of the blue to teach again (I know--shut up about that already), we added a kitten to our household and I continue to put my editing skills to work on a wonderful project--the Discovery Land Global curriculum is teaching kids about Jesus in dozens of churches both stateside and worldwide.  As I finished edits on the spring installment Tuesday, I appreciated how awesome that project is--both in its impact and its quality. That involvement is a huge blessing that I often forget to count.

Now it's time to begin my 2015 bucket list. 

*  Earn my mandatory 6 credits by the end of June so I can keep my teaching license (and, consequently, keep my job).
*  Finish editing my YA novel and come up with a good title.
*  I hate adding this one--it's so cliche and I NEVER like writing items that sound like self-improvement resolutions, but working full-time has really skewed the balance:  exercise more so I can stay strong. My weight is fine--but FEELING energetic, that's another story.  I have to get my rear in gear more often than twice a week.
*  Repaint two more rooms.  (We're down to just four rooms needing paint here!)
*  Landscape around Mr. D's ginormous shed.  It must be done.  Plus, planting is FUN!  And there will be blackberry bushes involved in this endeavor.
*  Get in the woods at least three times a month.
*  Take Team Testosterone on at least five adventures.

I'm getting started on that last one this morning when we pack the Momvan and head to the Dells for some indoor waterpark action--water slides, laser tag and a lazy river. 

Happy 2015!

Mr. G and I took a blurry Christmas Eve selfie.
Spill it, reader.  Do you write bucket lists, resolutions or just keep rolling one year from the next?

*I don't do resolutions.  Self-improvement isn't fun, but bucket lists are, so I make a list each year of what I want to DO.  My list might include things that are good and useful and helpful, but they can also include enjoyable things.  Really, anything that makes me feel accomplished in any sense of the word can end up on my annual bucket list.

© 2014 Melissa Westemeier All Rights Reserved 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

happy solstice!

Spill it, reader.  How are you celebrating the shortest day?

Monday, December 15, 2014

raindrops on kittens

On Friday the school secretary called me to come grab Mr. G.  He had a fever of 102, headache, body aches and a side helping of cough.  In a frenzy I whipped together sub plans to cover the rest of my day and drove across the block to grab my baby.  (Yes, the block.  I drove across the block.  I work a stone's throw from where two of my kids attend school and in the same building as the other.  We keep it tight around here.)

The kid was suffering all right.  I tucked him into my bed and oh how he wailed, thrashed, moaned and cried.  Typical male, he was a miserable and complaining sort of patient.  It took him two whole days to get near normal, he spiked a fever on and off the entire time.  Naturally he passed along his bug to Mr. D and me. 

I could feel the edge of sick slicing into my skull when I brought the other boys to Friday night's basketball game.  I valiantly slept with Mr. G that night, allowing Mr. D the night off.  He tossed and turned and whined all night long.  The following evening I'd agreed to accompany a group of high school kids to Milwaukee to see A Christmas Carol and by the opening lines the headache and congestion started.  It was a magnificent performance (starring Jonathan Smoots!  As Scrooge!).  I enjoyed it so much while I struggled to keep my snuffling and nose blowing to a minimum so as not to disturb my fellow patrons of the arts.

By Sunday I was laid flat and by midday, Mr. D was right there with me.  We mouth-breathed a cough-fueled duet last night and I hit the medicine cabinet hard before going to work this morning.  This explains why, during second hour, I referenced raindrops on kittens in the midst of a hazy explanation about alliteration (I think.  I can't be totally sure.  I might have been rambling about the foggy, rainy weather).  The students exchanged perplexed glances before asking, What are you talking about?   "You know, warm woolen mittens and snowflakes on roses ... my favorite things.  How does that song go?  Or is it snowflakes on kittens?"  Ms. W, you seem confused.  "I do.  I am.  It's the drugs talking.  It's raindrops on roses and whiskers--that's right! Whiskers on kittens."

And speaking of favorite things, check out the most charming Christmas ornament my friend Molly gave me last week.  Don't you LOVE it?  Those boots won't actually hang on the Christmas tree, however, because that darn kitten of ours is so naughty and I'd weep if she knocked it down and broke it.  I only staged it on that bough for a moment while Rose was shut safely in the basement.  They dangle from a hook in my library where I will enjoy them all year long.  New boots.  Shiny, cunning new Wellies just for me.

Isn't the loveliest kind of gift the perfect, thoughtful and unexpected surprise kind?

Spill it, reader.  One favorite thing that someone gifted you out of the blue.  I'm off to take a swig of cough syrup. 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

seasonal bliss and a good trade

When you get a kitten your impulse is, quite naturally, to dangle things for it to attack.  This dangling provides endless fun for both people and felines.  It should have come as no surprise then, when we installed a Christmas tree and hung a bunch of bright, shiny ornaments on it, that the kitten viewed it as a Major Project.  Rose is determined to conquer the tree--strip it of every single ornament and bat those dropped ornaments into corners until she is certain they are dead.

In short, she's really pissing everybody off.  She can't help it, her kitten brain and Christmas tree are at odds.  Mr. G is especially angry at her and waits by the tree, spray bottle in hand to catch her in the act.  Then he catches her and lectures her.  She paws his freckled face and purrs.  It's pretty adorable.

I cleverly did NOT collect any homework to bring home to grade this weekend.  It feels really nice to have a weekend off.  A sliver of Christmas shopping got done, a chunk of an editing job, and I (finally!) watched The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel while ironing.  For a few hours my life felt like it used to be before I went back to work, leisurely and content. 

My nephew who is now in college asked me to knit him a stocking cap with a giant pom-pom when I saw him over Thanksgiving.  I haven't knit anything in ages, so I agreed.  Today I purchased the yarn and am looking forward to getting that started in the next couple of weeks.  In a fair trade, he taught me how to block people's Facebook posts.  I'm too much of a weenie to unfriend anybody, it would look bad, right?  But there are people I like just fine in person but cannot abide on Facebook--they post politically divisive, fear-mongering or hateful things.  Or really stupid things like "Like this if you hate cancer!"  "Ten thousand likes and this little orphan with a puppy will get a kidney donated to save her life!"  "Share this if you believe in love/Jesus/friendship."  "I got Lita Ford!  What's your secret rocker chick identity???"  It's best that I never, ever see what these people post so I can smile at them when I run into them at a basketball game or in the grocery store.  And there are people who post every single photo they ever take of their children.  These people take daily, sometimes it seems like hourly, pictures.  I try to imagine a life where I'm constantly asking my kin to line up and smile.  "Stop eating dinner and say cheese!"  "Stop playing your game and gather together--now SMILE!"  "Stop playing the snow and let me get a picture of you all together!"  Then I wonder what fuels the desire to take these endless pictures and put them out there for public consumption.  And then there are the people whose lives appear to be a constant party-party-party.  They just annoy the hell out of me because it's not even possible to never have to go grocery shopping or stay home and catch up with laundry.  Unless, of course, you are a college kid like my nephew.  My nephew, who I am not friends with on Facebook, so I couldn't even tell you if he is annoying or not, though I suspect not.

That paragraph has left me breathless so I'm going to find my size 8 round needles and talk my kids into watching a Christmas movie.  Maybe Elf.  And I'm not taking a picture of them gathered on the couch together, I promise.

Spill it, reader.  Most annoying Facebook posts. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

a final fifth for 2014

Today's school-free day kicked off with waffles and bacon and 4 overnight guests, the kind of guests who pack in with sleeping bags and snow pants and basketball shoes and noise and laughter.  Once our house emptied out for the day, we got cracking on getting Mr. T his driving temps, picking up cheese and beer to bring to Iowa, and scrubbing the nooks and crannies that have been ignored since August.  I think I've definitely earned myself an early beer while I post the last 20 things to this thankful list ...

81. Patience.  The patience I've cultivated in myself and other people's patience towards me.
82. Good friends--my own, my kids' friends, our lives abound with fun, NICE people.
83. Efficiency. 
84. Wonky knee aside, my health.
85. The courage of those early Americans who settled this place and created a flawed, but clearly workable system of government.
86. Having very few wants.
87. And, as I age, it seems I have fewer needs.
88. Porches.  The front has a hammock and a swing.  The back is screened in. 
89. A lovely view from both porches.
90. I went to college and gained a lot of useful knowledge.
91. I never made a mistake so big that it wrecked me.
92. Mr. D and I are in an easy place where the fights are few and far between and the reliance is pretty mutual.
93. In-floor heating. 
94. Bicycles.
95. Cabin Porn. For those wishful moments.
96. Sheets with a high thread count.
97. Ceiling fans.
98. My friend Robin's son is healing from a terrible accident.
99. A private corner to call my own.
100. My friend Alice, who has taught me resilience, grace, determination and history.

Happy Thanksgiving!  I hope your day is full of happy people, plenty to eat and drink and safe travels if you're on the road like me!