Saturday, December 2, 2017

blessings in a book!

My friend Becky Ramsey wrote another book!

I adored her first book, French at Heart, so I was super-pumped to learn she has written MORE about her years living in France. Don't we all indulge in that fantasy of living in another country for a stretch of time and learning how to become nearly "local?" Thankfully people like Becky let me have that experience vicariously. I assure you, reader friends, Becky does not disappoint. Her description of being the odd duck American learning how to live the French way is charming and self-depreciating. Characters from her first book return, including my favorite, Madame Mallet. Here's a little excerpt to give you a taste:

"Who is that handsome man that stayed in your house for two hours and six minutes?" asked my neighbor, Madame Mallet.
"He's my French tutor," I said. "He comes once a week."
"That's good," she said. "I would teach you myself, but you clearly need someone who can explain your mistakes in your own language. Don't you think he should come more often?"

I declare, Madame Mallet is France's most passive-aggressive neighbor lady.

Becky's humor, insights on faith and culture, and appreciation of la vie Francais delight. You could classify this book as a devotional, a travel memoir or humor, but however you slice this baguette of awesomeness, you need to get your hands on a copy.

Here's the good news--you can BUY ONE HERE or WIN ONE HERE! I'm giving away a free copy of The Holy Eclair to one lucky commenter. All you have to do is tell me your favorite saint (when you read the book, you'll understand why).

Spill it, reader. Who's your fave saint?   I'll announce the book winner next weekend and you'll have your copy in time for holiday reading!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

one incredible chapter

Four years ago Mr. T started high school cross country. I remember how those upperclassmen on his team took him under their wing--guys like Ben, Matt, Kevin, Sam, Travis, Adam, Jake, Seth and Ramsey made him feel welcome and part of the group. T ran race times in the 22 minute range and improved gradually. Now he's the old guard and heading into his last races of his high school career. He wants to break into the 17's at Sectionals in Waupaca this Saturday. Yesterday his team swept their conference meet and he made 2nd team all-conference while getting a PR.

In four years I've had to move faster and faster across the courses to watch him run past and cheer for him.
In four years I've bought him five pairs of trainers and three pairs of spikes. (A shout-out to Runaway Shoes for awesome support!)
In four years we've acquired lots of FHS cross country T-shirts and sweatshirts.
In four years I've sweated, dripped, shivered, yelled and smiled on the sidelines.
In four years I've learned the jargon of this sport, terms like "running strategy" and "kick" and "PR" are now part of our family's lexicon.
In four years I've contributed to team meals, lugged the chocolate milk cooler to meets, navigated course maps and listened to coach speeches.
In four years I've seen Mr. T battle injury and discouragement.
In four years I've seen him break through barriers and become a legit varsity runner.
In four years I've seen him get so excited and motivated and learn to lead.
In four years I've watched his self-discipline and confidence bloom. 
This year Mr. B joined the team and it has brought me so much joy to watch these two brothers share the sport. They've bonded as teammates, trained and encouraged each other and grown closer.  My heart has been GLAD to listen to them talk about practices when they get home in the evening and watch them head out together to socialize with their "running group." It's so cool to see them connecting this way outside of our family unit.

It's been a hell of a run and I'm thankful for all the opportunities and memories cross country has given our entire family. I had no idea a sport could give anything to a parent, until this experience I only thought high school sports benefited the athletes. Watching Mr. T finish his career is giving me all the feels this week, but mostly the satisfaction of watching my son develop and reach his potential. 

Finish strong, Mr. T. You should be proud of yourself, I'm quite proud of you.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

summer of sloth

I didn't take any classes this summer, nor did I teach any. (Except for 3rd grade Sunday School, but that doesn't really count--spending time with those kids was a blessing.)

I planted a fraction of my usual vegetable garden, and most of the flower beds are so established that I rarely pull weeds.

I didn't sign up my kids for a bunch of activities. Partly because they are now TOO OLD and uninterested. No one needs to learn how to swim or take music lessons now. (Wow, when I look back at our old summer schedules I feel exhausted). Mr. T worked, ran and played video games. Mr. B went to a couple wrestling camps, worked out, fished and hung with his buddies. Mr. G played baseball, messed around with his buddies, went to a basketball camp and took speed and agility training. I barely had to drive anyone around it seemed.

I hung out in the hammock.

I bought bags of Cheetos and boxes of toffee crunch ice cream bars and hid them from the other people living in my house so I could eat them all by myself.

I swam a lot of laps.

I read many books.

I finished writing a book.

I went to Oregon with my writing group, where I learned that my book was nearly finished.
In Oregon with these fine women.

I repainted and cleaned out the library. That was kind of a big job. I unloaded 3 tubs of books and threw out a bag of random crap.

In July Mr. T and I took a trip of a lifetime together to England and Paris. I've told each of the boys that I wanted to bring them wherever they want to go in the whole wide world before they graduated. Mr. T and I have planned this trip for months and it went without a hitch.

We started in London for a few days (with day trips to Windsor, Oxford, Stratford-upon-Avon and Warwick Castle), then moved to York for a night at England's longest-running convent (medieval walls, towers, York Minster--such a great city). We returned to London to see Much Ado About Nothing at the Globe, then took the train to Bath. From Bath we traveled to Bristol, caught a flight to Paris and saw all the Parisian sights, from the summit of the Eiffel Tower to bottom level of the Saint-Chappelle.



Mr. T taught me how to take a proper selfie.

We rocked.
I didn't drive at all during this trip, instead we took trains, buses, subways, planes and hitched a ride with a friend for one leg of our journey. We walked over 100,000 steps. We ate a ridiculous amount of fresh pastries. We discussed politics, social issues, the benefits of public spaces and how cool it would be to live next to really, really old stuff, like Hadrian's Wall. We sorted strange currencies, admired people's dogs and debated the merits of living in a city. We watched fancy-dressed people on their way to a horse race, rugby players practicing, heard musicians rehearsing in St. Paul's Cathedral and saw many, many statues of naked and half-naked people. We were asked to pose for a newspaper photographer beside the River Ouse in York. There was an art market on the Dame Judi Dench Walk and we stood and admired the paintings of the featured artist.

When one sees a Dame Judi Dench Walk one certainly takes a picture. And walks.

We traveled light, a backpack for each of us. This allowed us to easily move around and made airline travel a cinch. The weather was mostly in the 60's in England and since we didn't get too dirty while sightseeing, we packed very light and did laundry when we spent the night in York (our halfway point). I can honestly say that on this trip I didn't pack a single thing I didn't need or use, nor did I forget to pack anything vital. I packed: 5 shirts, 1 jacket, 1 pair black capris, 1 pair jeans, 1 skirt, 5 pair underpants, 1 extra pair of shoes, 1 pair of pajama pants and sleep T-shirt, 1 cardigan, a small bag of toiletries (Mr. T and I shared toothpaste and shampoo), 3 paperback books, a packet of confirmation numbers for hotels and attractions, my purse (with passport, insurance card, sunglasses, money, chap stick and other essentials) and an extra duffel bag for souvenirs on the return trip home because you are allowed one bag and one carry-on item.

Mr. T appreciated the bakeries, ice cream vendors, pub grub, public transportation, history and culture lessons. He likes design elements, architecture and weapons, which we saw at every stop along the way. His views are broader, his imagination piqued and his point of reference is expanded thanks to the experience. And my firstborn and I made some pretty great memories. We get along well, but 11 days of uninterrupted time alone with one other person really allows a deeper connection to develop.

As for me, I appreciated knowing how to work all the things when we got home. I am particularly fond of England and had a total blast on our trip, but by the end I was happy to return home, where I know how to operate a shower, make change and get from one place to the next without THINKING about it all the time. There's a certain ease we enjoy with familiarity.

Oh, and one more thing happened this summer:

Find a stray, keep a stray.
Team Testosterone found a stray kitten in the back yard late July. He was pretty beat up and bedraggled, flea-and-worm-infested and hungry. Of course they brought him in, gave him food, water, litter box and bedding. Of course we've since spent money on vet care and named him Thorn. And of course Mr. G is calling me "Crazy Cat Lady" even though I had absolutely nothing to do with this cat business--aside from setting up the vet appointments and paying the bills. But he's a friendly little guy and very affectionate and Rose is tolerating him.

Sloth indeed. I feel grateful that I had time to do so little and so much.

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.