Saturday, November 21, 2015


Confession: for the first half of my life I couldn't imagine having kids. In this second half I can't imagine life without the little buggers. They're goofy, messy, affectionate, interesting and entertaining. This morning I watched all of them tromp towards the woods decked out in blaze orange, together as they often are.  It amazes me how much they like to hang out with each other. It amazes me more how much they like to hang out around Mr. D and me.

long limbs sprawled across couches: a portrait of adolescence.
I adore these easy years of motherhood, we rarely quarrel and I'm free of the back-breaking labor of earlier years. My offspring are house-trained for the most part now, able to self-serve in many ways and capable of pitching in with chores. Mostly I feed them, wash their laundry and engage in conversations about everything under the sun, from sports to religion to politics.

give a boy a screen and he won't move for the whole morning.
Recently they invented a game with note cards and a cardboard box. They wrote random words on the cards and draw them out in turns, giggling at the results. "Bald, evil, Chinese superhero." The oldest son is a little bossy, the youngest too competitive and clingy, the middle a bit hard-headed, but they complement each other, bending and accommodating each other's quirks. They wisely give each other space and grace as needed, never bearing a grudge.

shamelessly silly.
At the grocery store Mr. G will remind me to grab a Peace Tea for his oldest brother, because that's Mr. T's favorite. Mr. T will call Mr. B over to check out something new on Terraria, Mr. B reminds Mr. G to grab his praise-and-worship t-shirt for Thursday's performance at liturgy and advises him to keep it in his locker afterwards so he doesn't forget it.  Mr. B asks Mr. T about high school stuff, tapping his older brother's experience and wisdom. I was never close to my sister like my sons are with each other, their deep affection amazes me. They're so confident in their place, so secure knowing we have enough love to go around, that they don't compete for anything.

They make me proud. The report cards look good and we receive regular complements on their behavior.  Mr. T is trustworthy and possesses courage and sly humor. Mr. B never met a person he didn't turn into a friend and he has a million-and-twenty-three plans he's working on executing at any given minute. Mr. G is freakishly athletic and wicked smart.

I'm thankful for these great kids, for their common sense and intelligence and fantastic logic. Two days ago on our way to school and I reminded them I'd pick them up early because we had an appointment to process our passports.
Team Testosterone: We should go to Paris for vacation! 

Me: Okay. Why Paris?
Team Testosterone: Because they just got attacked, so statistically the odds are they're not going to be attacked twice. Plus, since they got attacked, security is tighter than ever so it's probably safer than ever.
Me: Good point.
Team Testosterone: And we bet a lot of people won't go there now because they're scared, so we'd probably get a great deal. Like half-price.
Me: You're probably right. 
Team Testosterone: Is the Eiffel Tower open? We'd really like to see that.

I dropped them off feeling pretty proud some of me has rubbed off on them. My offspring. I thank God for the gift of them every day.

Saturday, November 7, 2015


It's Thanksgiving month, a season and holiday I can really get behind. I've hung the boys' handprint turkeys from their early childhood around our house and propped up the bulletin board by the fireplace for them to write on construction paper leaves all that they feel thankful for. My head is down and I ignore the squawk of commercials telling me we need more. We have plenty. More than enough. We're taking this season to act grateful.

You see, we enjoy running water (hot and cold) and a well-insulated house with the luxury of in-floor heating. Our vehicles run, our appliances make life easier, we have friends and activities and a lovely view out the back window.  We rarely stop and recognize all this wealth.

My colleagues are a fun group of people, guaranteed to make me laugh at least once a day and support me in any request I make of them. They freely share advice and sympathy.  I am blessed to work with rock stars in the teaching profession, passionate and dedicated people. Our building isn't anything to brag about, but what happens in our cinder block cells reflects really well on what great teachers can do without the latest and greatest resources at their fingertips.

The freedom I enjoy with the curriculum is terrific. People can hate on Common Core all they want, but I love it. The old Wisconsin State Standards were ridiculous (Students should write with pen and pencil--seriously? nit-picky and stupid). Under the new guidelines I do legit teaching--read Founding Brothers and decide which founding brother was the best using the text as support--read The Crucible and argue which character behaved the worst. I'm not told exactly what to teach, I only have to achieve specific outcomes, the HOW is up to me.  The emphasis on higher-level thinking and writing skills is up my alley as a teacher and I'm having a blast developing both English 12 and AP Language & Composition.

My students are mostly delightful (there are always a couple exceptions in any class, but even those kids aren't the worst). Third hour in particular always makes me smile. This weird mash-up of seniors respect each other and encourage each other every day. A popular student council member and state wrestling qualifier will swap out work with a special needs student and they treat each other as equals. A loudmouth cowboy and a foreign exchange student learn from each other. These kids think and make observations about literature and writing and care about the hour we spend together. I adore them. Plus they made up a sign-up sheet and take turns bringing in food for the whole class to share. I don't have to do anything but enjoy how well they get along and learn with one another.  I merely facilitate the hour, which is what every teacher ultimately aspires to do.

My principal sent me to a conference and I returned with my head full of new ideas to try. I learned from every person I met at this conference and enjoyed a day of not being in charge. Bonus: Panera catered the event, breakfast and lunch.

The AP students are crushing it this year. We've got all kinds of good stuff happening on the writing front and on the discussion end. No one's overwhelmed, they're all in that sweet spot of feeling challenged enough. Two hours of bright kids with big ideas and insightful questions. What a dream.  I feel good about this year's test scores.

Parents care, too. I saw almost 70% of my students' parents at conferences last week, and had positive contact with all of them. How marvelous to work in a school district where students have families really invested and involved in their education. Amazingly, I even had contact with every parent I wanted to see. (That usually doesn't happen.)

Sure, my right shoulder and elbow are sore from sitting cramped over grading papers. Yes, the cursed copy machine throws the occasional curve ball at my lesson plans. The paperwork can devastate our souls, Room 212 is windowless and chilly, and I swear drunk monkeys made out the schedule. But the stuff that really matters at work is good and great and I'm thankful for it.

Spill it, reader. What are the good things at your job?

Monday, October 19, 2015

fall five

Patience wrote my favorite post about fall ever.  Go read it. Fall's my least favorite season for many reasons (mostly because it's not spring or summer), but since it's Monday and October, I'm keeping my crabby rant short and snappy.
Green Girl, Mr. T and Mr G picking apples many years ago. Apples are one thing I like about fall. Football and the colors are the two other things.

1. My skin breaks out in a weird rash when I carve pumpkins. I can eat pumpkin without effect, but my skin cannot touch any part of a pumpkin plant except the cold, hard outer shell of the squash. And as Patience points out, "pumpkin" anything in fall is really not pumpkin, it's spices, and that type of deliberate mislabeling irritates me.
2. I live in Wisconsin and it's getting colder and colder and colder. Which means closing windows and doors on the great outdoors.
3. Sure, it's pretty outside, but have I mentioned how it's getting colder? Chapped hands, chapped lips, red runny nose COLD.
4. Short days and long nights equals depression and fatigue.
5. Everything takes longer because boots and jackets and gloves and soon it will take even longer because snow.

I get that fall is this big novelty season for other people who are all Yay! I get to wear a scarf and boots and inhale cinnamon! but for someone who has to actually wear said scarf and boots almost half the year out of necessity I say %&*! you, FALL! You suck!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

like a punch to the gut

That's exactly how fall hit us this past week. One day we wore flip-flops and enjoyed the fine sheen of sweat on our brow, windows wide open to let in the balmy 80 degree breezes, the next day we woke up shivering, adding socks and sweaters, closing windows and turning on the heat.  On a related note, since they switched over to the heating system, Room 212 is pretty comfortable now. I appreciate not having to bundle up to go indoors for a change...

Mr. T is completely vetted as an Eagle Scout as of 1:00 today. The grandparents trekked to town, oaths were taken publicly, mentor pins attached to shirts and candles lit. Court of Honor in the books and now we kick back to enjoy the gentle winding down of the cross-country season.

While the grandparents were here we had a FEAST. It was like a major holiday here, we even dragged extra chairs to the table! Potatoes and onions on the grill, beside pork chops and hamburgers and hot dogs. Roasted beets. Salad with tomatoes and carrots. Apple crisp.  Much of this meal came straight from the garden and the apples came off of my parents' trees. I'm glad to have a week of leftovers in the fridge. 

Instead of lazing in my hammock to grade papers, I'm tucked beneath a blanket in the library with a view of the changing leaves outside. My AP students had to write an argument for or against computers grading papers (the irony!), most of them would prefer human teachers doing the dirty work. It's time to turn them to a reading kind of unit, five weeks under our belt and all of my classes will turn in their second major paper of the year this week. Whew. I need to get a little better at coordinating alternating paper due dates so I'm not shellacked by over a hundred to grade at once. Next year. It will get better next year.

So I said last year. But it is better.

What else is new around here? We're getting passports. I have a book grinding through the publishing process. Mr. B is researching chickens because he thinks it would be fun, educational and profitable to raise them.  Mr. G is kicking flag football butt.

And most exciting, TWO of my Screw Iowa Writers Workshop pals have new books out!  Check it:

You can buy your very own copy of this terrific mystery here or here or wait a month for my giveaway and hope you get lucky.

Likewise, you can order the first installment of this lush trilogy here or wait for my giveaway!

The Packers are ahead, I'm behind in my grading and I just looked out my window to see a kid getting ready to pee on my flowers by the porch so I better sign off.

Spill it, reader. How did fall hit you? Or are you still in summer season?

Sunday, September 20, 2015

working class

I had two glorious days in my classroom where the temperature raised above "Meat Cooler" and into "Temperate." Presuming some clever custodian had found the magical switch or lever or button that defrosted Room 212, I showed up on the third day last week dressed in normal clothes--khakis, shirt, scarf, sandals. I left with chilblains (a word I recently looked up since Kristen Hannah used it approximately 750 times in The Nightingale to describe the misery of living in Nazi-Occupied France.*).  Guess those two days were a mysterious fluke of the building's ancient heating-cooling system.

On a related note, my book club really liked The Nightingale and enjoyed our discussion of it. Over-reliance on chilblains aside.

Our first night at Awana went incredibly well. Not a single kiddo in our Cubbies room cried, which almost never happens with toddlers doing the first time of anything. They were sweet and listened and generally so cute and pleasant to work with. Last year was a pretty rough run for me as a room leader, so I had been praying about whether or not I should continue with the program. Discipline and classroom management issues are usually on the teacher's shoulders and I felt like the whole year was a fruitless struggle. Was I aging out of being productive? Too old and ineffective to work with this age group? Was God prodding me to focus my efforts elsewhere? When you walk away so drained from serving, something's not right.  Anyway, message received from upstairs, so I'm staying put for now and feeling good about it.

And speaking of kiddos, the students in Room 212 are pretty swell, too. Curious and polite and funny. Even the ornery ones aren't awful, in fact a couple of the ornery ones make me laugh every day. It should be a fun year in there. They turn in their first papers tomorrow, let the grading season begin!

Mr. T continues to run like a BOSS. He's won two medals as a JV runner. It's all very exciting and shocking to us at the same time.  He also rearranged his schedule to take Metals I. When I asked what one learns in Metals I, my son shrugged. No clue. Well, my grandpa was a welder, so perhaps he inherited some natural aptitude or interest. It would be cool if he did.
My Grandpa, Syl Panske. A shout-out to my cousin Mitch for sharing this photo find.

Mr. G and his buddies were playing football on the sidelines of the varsity game Friday night. It cracked me up when "Watch Me Whip" came on and all the little boys stopped in their tracks to sing and dance along.  I was so dog-tired after school Friday, I had zero desire to stand around in the rain to watch football. But we had a truckload of boys fervently desiring this entertainment, so I bucked up and we all went. I got to kick up my feet by the fire pit with a beer yesterday afternoon, my kind of end-of-the-work-week relaxation.

Today's job list includes laundry, homework help, cleaning floors and replacing the toaster that I accidentally set on fire last week while preparing a bagel to pack in my lunchbox.

Spill it, reader. What are you working on these days?

*Any association between conditions of Happyland High and the The Nightingale is unintentional and purely coincidental.

© 2015 Melissa Westemeier All Rights Reserved

Sunday, August 30, 2015

flash of gratitude

I decided that if I can't compose long, thoughtful posts, I'll go for the occasional gratitude list.  This practice will keep me in a better state of mind by allowing me to pour out and focus on the blessings, which benefits my mental health, AND it will keep any interested readers still lingering around this place sort of apprised on what's new in my world.

Mr. T had a great first cross-country race, setting a PR. This year should be huge for him and he's coming home pretty excited from his practices.  Mr. B's first meet is this week, so stay tuned. I love watching my kids participate in activities they enjoy.

While at the doctor's office for annual physicals I had to again defend my children's low birth rate. Yes, I feed them anything they want. No, I do not force them to exercise nonstop. As we waited by the desk, I encouraged the boys to help themselves each to a Dum Dum sucker in the jar. Mr. T pulled what he thought was a mystery flavor and it was BACON. Bacon flavored suckers. Amazing!
 Bacon Dum Dums Lollipops

The fields are abloom with goldenrod and the first leaves are turning color. The crickets have cranked up their song.

Okay, this doesn't really count as being grateful, but I have to add it in: our high school building smells jack-nasty. And it's not just parts of it, the entire building has a sweaty feet-B.O. FUNK to it and I'm seriously concerned about the air quality. The entry way, halls, classrooms--no single place smells neutral, let alone pleasant. Plus, there are NO windows to ever give it proper ventilation. I might be super-sensitive because I keep our windows open all the time, but am I the only person gagging?

My in-service meetings were all shorter than planned and the guest speaker (Civility in the Workplace) was really good. I like it when I can take away useful things from a meeting. I love it when people don't waste my time.

Cherry tomatoes + chickpeas = best summer salad.

Mr. B declared his goal of getting all A's this year. The other two are also looking forward to school starting, which tells me no one has regrets about how they frittered away their summer vacation.

The raspberry canes I moved are thriving. The greenhouse is nearly cleaned out and ready for fall planting. The blackberry bushes I planted this spring all survived. The pumpkins were a fail, but I'll stay focused on the positive.
row of raspberry canes

parade of pets that follows me wherever I go. sometimes I walk in random circles just to see if they'll keep following me around. they will. I feel like a parade marshal.

The pears keep coming. Last evening while I sat on the porch talking to a friend, Mr. T and Mr. G took turns chucking them as far as they could across the yard. Good thing it will rain soon, we have pear mash all over and it will be Wasp City. Wait, where's the gratitude in this part?

I finished the Laura Lippman book and actually had time to start a Maisie Dobbs mystery before my book club book arrives. Have I mentioned that I've gone nearly TV-free this summer? The only notable exceptions are Masterpiece, reruns of Modern Family and the occasional Brewer game. As I've stepped away from the screen, I find I hardly miss it and have more time for other pursuits. I also find that I have no clue what else is on or going to be on, consequently no clue what I might be missing, but that's okay with me. 

Spill it, reader. Some gratitude or your thoughts on watching TV. Or animal parades. Whatever's on your mind.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

musings on my last day before going back to work

I'm thankful to work in a district where they give us most of our inservice time to work in our rooms instead of slog through days of meaningless meetings. I have only a half day's worth of meetings--imagine!
When I write "district" it makes me think of The Hunger Games.  Such an industrial-sounding word.
Naturally the tomatoes I planted will be fully ripe NEXT WEEK after I'm up to my armpits in school work. It's not fair to be a teacher and a gardener. The two simply do not mix well.
And then there are the pears which will continue for another week and a half. I lug coolers of pears everywhere I go. So far people welcome the donations. I fear someday, however, folks will start edging towards the nearest exit when they see me dragging a cooler into the room.
Big dilemma: knock off a couple fall cleaning chores early today or finish Laura Lippman's Hush Hush?
But it's cold, so the hammock will NOT be fun today.
Decided: will ignore the boys' bathroom for another week and let A deal with it when she starts cleaning for me again.
Managed to schedule Mr. B's physical an hour before his first cross-country practice. Talk about cutting it close, eh?
Team Testosterone and I took a road trip north to Lake Superior last weekend. We mostly had a blast, though the driving got a little long a couple of times. We explored a few beaches, hiked, biked but the kayaking didn't work out. Too much wind created a small craft advisory and we had to cancel. Bummer, because those sea caves are really cool looking, but we'll have to head back some other time.
We got to meet Jocelyn! She was super nice, her family was delightful and she lives in the prettiest house you can imagine with all kinds of nooks, crannies and cubby-holes. And get this: her neighborhood has a private beach on Lake Superior! She and Byron and Paco brought us down to experience it, the guys lit paper lanterns and sent them into the heavens while Jocelyn and I chatted about families, work, blogging, writing and so forth. Time flew, as it always does when you are in good company. I'm so glad we drove the distance to do that.
I never finished the project in my fenced-in garden. Yesterday I prepared it a bit more, but the clock is ticking. If I don't get cracking by Saturday, forget it.
Do I put this blog on hiatus until Christmas break or make a feeble attempt to post once or twice a month?
I never developed any photographs from our Yellowstone vacation. Photographs make my head and stomach hurt--I don't enjoy the processing and labeling and putting into albums. But I like looking at the pictures. Such a conundrum. So much guilt.
I wonder which student will make me cock an eyebrow first next Tuesday.
I can't wait to see how my classes do with my New! Improved! curriculum.  
Decided: if my room is a subzero freezer again I am skipping all the administrative pipeline and going directly to the nearest custodian and beg for their help. I'm handing this and this to them. Whatever it takes, I will NOT suffer frostbite in my classroom. Will teach in cafeteria or commons area if necessary.
I hope it's easy to get moving tomorrow morning when my alarm goes off.
I bet it will be--I'm pretty excited to go back to school.