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?

Monday, June 13, 2016

read it on a box! with a fox!

Breaking News: You can buy my latest book!

You can buy it from me (message me via FB or dmwest at hbs dot net) (best way because I make the most money).
You can buy it from BPP (great way because I make money).
You can buy it from Amazon (worst way because I make no money, but still a way).
You can get it on Kindle and I will make a little money tomorrow.


You can read it on the beach.
You can read it with a peach.
You can read it in a hammock.

You can read it on a rock.
You can read it in a plane.
You can read it in the rain.

You can read it with your dog.
You can read it on a log.

You can read it with your cat.
You can read it on a yoga mat.

You can read it in the sun--
Read it, read it! This book is FUN!
You can read it on a boat.
You can read this book I wrote.

And then when you are all done,
Review it HERE! Tell EVERYONE!

* Special thanks to Mr. G for posing for this promotional post.

Monday, May 30, 2016

right now

I'm officially done teaching for the year, the seniors have graduated and all of my obligations--aside from checking out of Room 212--are fulfilled.
I'm listening to Morning Edition on NPR instead of watching the clock to make sure we get to school on time today.
I'm drinking coffee out of a regular mug, not a travel mug. It feels so civilized
I have bed-head but my hair's at a length where it doesn't look terrifying.  I contemplate whether to shower sooner or later, probably later after I've messed around in the garden for a couple hours.
My bare feet are curled up beneath me on the carpet, the temperature is perfect for shorts and tank top.
I hear birds chattering and someone's lawn mower.
I see the potted flowers I set out on the front porch last night. I see peonies budding, the honey locust's leaves fully unfurled, the first lupines in bloom.
I smell spring air, tainted by cut grass, freshly turned soil and that just-rained-recently kind of aroma.
Most of the offspring are still sleeping, that makes the house feel quieter.
Rose is lounging on the floor nearby (she doesn't like to sit on laps, but she enjoys companionship at a distance of 3 feet).
Mr. D is sitting in "his spot" doing something on his phone, wearing his glasses halfway down his nose.
Mr. T just returned from grabbing a book from his locker at school because finals start tomorrow.

This pleasant day came at a price I didn't pay, I appreciate the sacrifice others made.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

plus (a little list)

I've got several justifiable reasons to be crabby tonight. It's tempting to start grousing here and vent it all out, but in the interest of switching out my frame of mind before I tackle the final 10 AP Language & Composition essays of the season I'm going to list some good things.

1. I scored the fabulous Mrs. Jones for my sub tomorrow morning! She seriously rocks.
2. No rain in the immediate forecast.
3. Lilacs, crabapple trees, tulips and creeping phlox all blooming.
4. This book for sale real soon:

5. This fantastic fishing guide called me Friday about promoting it here!  (He's a peach!)
6. Eating asparagus and rhubarb and spinach fresh from our garden.
7. I got to watch Beverly Hills Cop on AMC last night all by myself in a hotel room.
8. The hotel room I stayed in was quite clean, spacious and at the end of the hall farthest from the elevator. And it had a fan that ran all night providing white noise.
9. Mr. G played baseball on turf all weekend, which means NO GRASS STAINS on his white uniform pants.
10. Everything P.G. Wodehouse wrote.
11. I thought my knee was going to flare up on me but it didn't.
12. Neither did my allergies.
13. Returning home to a clean house and full pantry.

There. Much better now.

Spill it, reader. What's on your plus side?

Saturday, April 30, 2016


Is this post real? I tell you, I've written plenty of posts in my head during my morning shower, while sitting at baseball games, while doing dishes. It's incredible to think I'm actually sitting at my laptop pressing keys with my fingertips creating a real live blog post after so long.

Here are some remarkable things that have really happened since last I posted:

Our spring chores are nearly completed thanks to able-bodied minions who can pitchfork mulch into wheelbarrows and wash windows and carry heavy loads. A mother dreams of the day when her children can do these helpful things. I can't believe how ahead of schedule we are this year! It's only due to what Mr. G refers to as "slave labor" that this has happened. Mr. T is willing, Mr. B is easily bribed (when he's not off fishing), Mr. G whines incessantly and insists that our treatment of him is brutally unfair.  The daffodils have bloomed, we opened some windows to embrace the fresh air, we even walked around wearing shirtsleeves.  In fact we've accomplished so much that I told the crew they could have this weekend off and we'll save the biannual cleaning of the garage for next weekend. 

I brought Mr. G to the doctor to confirm suspicion that he has Osgood-Schlatter Disease (which sounds dreadful but is really common and not-life-threatening). While we waited in the examination room, we took turns measuring one another. After double, then triple-checking the ruler on the wall I was surprised to learn I'm actually a whole inch taller than I've believed myself to be since sixth grade! All my life I've marked myself as 5'3". Turns out I'm still growing! Or maybe yoga has stretched out my spine an extra inch. Whatever the cause, the discovery thrilled me.  Meanwhile, Mr. G's knees seem to be recovering now that basketball season is ended. The doctor's orders are to rest as needed, continue with regular activity otherwise.

Senioritis has crept into Room 212. I'm throwing every good thing I've got trying to keep these kids engaged as we hit the last stretch of the school year (a handful are exceptionally ornery but this is a Mostly Good class). English 12 had their Vietnam War simulation this past week, an activity that involves hours of preparation booby-trapping the lecture hall with black thread and paint cans to they can practice teamwork and communication skills. AP Language & Composition tests on May 11th and after that point it's all Harry Potter and this year they want to watch all of Dead Poets' Society since I made them watch 3 clips while introducing Transcendentalism to them (we end on Walden).  I suggested we could spend the last 2 weeks of class marketing my new book, taking pictures of them reading the proof copy in various poses and posting the pictures on social media.  They had some good ideas--on a horse! behind the cash register at Kwik Trip! on a log in the woods! (very Thoreauvian!) but that seemed exploitative so I'll hold off on the marketing until after they graduate.

Ah, that book. The back cover hit every possible snag and delay. I should have a proof copy from the printer this week. Then it should be on sale in two more weeks. God has really used this opportunity to help me learn patience.  I have not ground my teeth to stumps. I have not set fire to my laptop. I have not forsaken hope that it will emerge from what seems to be a Bermuda Triangle of book design. Someday I believe I'll even have a JPG of the cover to show people.

Meanwhile, I finished editing someone else's book, Doorway to Murder by Carol Pouliot. You will love it and I will tell you all when you can buy a copy while giving one away here this winter. Stay tuned.

We hit a new low in Room 212 last week. I asked my AP students to choose any single paragraph in "Sounds" by Thoreau and identify how he uses figurative language and explain its effect on the text or reader.  After a few minutes I began asking for volunteers to share. Five tries later one sweet girl raised her hand and said, "Ms. W, I don't think we know what figurative language is." These kids have had two years of AP between Literature as juniors and Language as seniors. For a moment I was convinced I was the worst teacher on earth or first hour was totally fried. I explained that figurative language includes the use of metaphor, imagery, allusion ...  light bulbs went on all over the room and then we got things rolling in a forward direction again. Whew.

Mr. T got a PR in his track event, Mr. B broke a bat during a softball game last night, Mr. D's team has only lost 2 games this season and I've managed to get every person dropped off or picked up on time for all of their events and practices--with all of their gear to boot.  There should be some kind of medal or ribbon awarded to the parents who accomplish that feat, especially when dealing with multiple offspring. In fact, I just spent an hour on the phone with Mr. D this morning, navigating him through Milwaukee's suburbs as he got lost driving Mr. G to a baseball tournament. I felt like ground control guiding him along with Mapquest. You should come up to Barker Street. What intersection are you on right now? Okay, in three exits you will turn LEFT ...  Heck, I need a TROPHY for that successful mission!

That's the news here. We can begin a countdown now to my next post, last day of school, my book release, the days remaining until the next Star Wars movie, the final paper to grade for the school year ...

Spill it, reader. What are you counting down the days until?

Friday, March 25, 2016

smug & snug

Spring break started a day early around these parts with a SNOW DAY. A blizzard bundled everyone out of the building Wednesday and when I rolled out of my classroom after breaking through the tsunami wave of paperwork on my desk at 5:30 (end of quarter grading, the budget, senior class stuff, plus a bunch of accountability forms mandated by the state all came due at about the same time), no one was left in the building besides me a few custodians. Apparently everyone else was out shopping for toilet paper and milk as one is wont to do when the weather takes a turn for the worse. Mr. D had called asking if I needed to go to the store, but I assured him we were stocked with enough carbohydrates, frozen pizzas and other essentials to last us through the next 48 hours until the roads cleared.

It's Day 2 of Spring Break, I'm still in my pajamas and so far I have:
*run 3.5 miles on the elliptical
*wiped down and cleaned out 3/4 of the kitchen cabinets
*run 3 loads of wash
*cleaned the living room closet (board games, craft supplies, decorations, tablecloths, etc.)
*generated 2 large boxes of miscellany to donate to the thrift shop
*read newspapers
*edited 67 pages of Carol Pouliot's new book (coming in November! stay tuned!)
*updated Team Testosterone's school books
*only worn elastic waistbands and t-shirts and showered once, no make-up, no hair product, and only pulled on boots when I went outside to shovel snow
*read blogs
*read 1/4 of a book by Penelope Lively (she is fantastic)
*made Team Testosterone clean their rooms
*updated the spring calendar with baseball games, track meets and practice schedules

I also watched the robins on our driveway. They are as big as softballs! They almost look like Angry Birds.

To sum up, I'm feeling smug in what I accomplished with my extra day off and snug in my pajama pants and slippers. We're celebrating Easter Eve with my sister and Grandma Alice and isn't Easter the easiest meal to prepare? We're eating ham, asparagus, rolls, potatoes, deviled eggs and pineapple upside down cake--half that stuff simply gets popped in the oven with no fuss, Mr. T makes the eggs and Mr. D's insisting on doing the potatoes this year.

I won't get after any of the yard work this break which is a shame, but at least I'll get the indoor chores done and have lots of time to read and play games with the kids. I didn't even bring home school work, I'm that committed to relaxing. Already my brain feels better for that decision. 

Plus, Grantchester starts up Sunday night!  Gosh, life is sweet!

Spill it, reader. What's on your plate for Easter break?

Saturday, February 27, 2016

a weenie and a whiner

I got called up for jury duty this month. Around Christmas the "prospective juror survey" came in the mail and I filled it out, hoping they had plenty of white middle-aged women in the pool so they wouldn't require my assistance. No dice. The "official summons letter" arrived two weeks ago advising me to show up on Feb. 24-March 4. Clear my calendar, make arrangements with my employer, sort out child care. Mr. D was jealous, he's always wanted to be called up, he thinks it would be interesting. And while I agree that juries are a great method to insuring fair trials, I have no current desire to serve.

I re-read the letter from the judge and noted where you could write a letter to get excused for "hardship or medical reasons." No harm, no foul, so I decided to go for it. I wrote to the judge explaining that as a teacher I have to plan every day I'm absent. Teaching isn't the kind of gig where I can say to my staff, Nigel, hold my calls and reschedule everybody for the next week or so. I'm responsible for grading almost 100 papers a week. I advise students in a club and write letters of recommendation and serve on a committee and provide intervention for readers and adjust each lesson plan based on each previous day's achievements (or failures). Prepping for English 12 and AP Language & Composition isn't like telling a sub to referee a few rounds of dodge ball (no offense, phy ed folks, but we all know some courses require more curriculum development than others). As a juror I'd have to serve all day and spend all evening on my day job, that seemed like a hardship to me.

Plus, we have a shortage of substitute teachers. There are some great subs, but the demand is also great, which guarantees an unqualified person would be probably end up in Room 212, and while serving as a juror is a marvelously important civic duty, so is my role as a public educator. I didn't mention in my letter that I'm also a mom of 3 and run a household, though that would make jury duty even tougher under the circumstances.

Friends told me how you usually only have to show up the first day, it's not that big of a deal, you just call in each day and find out if you serve. A few people advised me to just act obnoxious--tell the judge that I'm Wiccan/Vegan/Muslim/Hindu/Baptist/VooDoo/Decaf or that I'm pro-death penalty in all circumstances.

Tempting though it was to pull a Liz Lemon, I can't lie and I'm pretty rotten at it, too, though it was tempting. Instead I started sketching out long-range sub plans for a week and a half. Indeed, I am a weenie and a whiner. But as a weenie and whiner resigned to participating reluctantly grudgingly actively in the Founding Fathers' vision of a democratic government (though I'm fairly certain Jefferson, Adams and Hamilton were the kind of guys who had plenty of staff on hand to run their affairs smoothly and wives to manage the daily tasks of household duties and child-rearing should they be called to serve as jurors when they wrote that amendment), I held out little hope for a reprieve.

I imagine I felt a little like the person about to go on trial.

Praying, persevering and planning for contingencies I carried on with a stiff upper lip. I did close my letter to the judge assuring him of my enthusiastic participation as a juror anytime over summer break, so maybe, maybe he'd excuse me out of kindness and recognizing that I was indeed a decent citizen.

Last Wednesday Mr. G took a phone message from the judge's secretary--I was excused! It was such a weight off my back, sweet freedom!

This week the trial started and it's headlining our local newspaper. It turns out I was summoned for a murder trial (exciting!) and the case got under way in a packed-out courthouse. I'm relieved I took a bye this round, this case will run all of another week if what I've read is any indication. Weird to imagine I might have watched everything unfold firsthand and been part of the decision, but I have no regrets, only gratitude toward a sympathetic judge who let me sit this one out.

Spill it, reader. Have you ever served as a juror? Was it interesting or horrible?