Sunday, December 3, 2017

Swim Parent 101

I'm not really qualified to write Swim Parenting 101 because I just started being a swim parent this past summer. However, I am a fast and engaged learner, and I'm really only planning to share one tip.

The tip is to purchase a stadium chair with a nice pad for the seat. You know what I'm talking about? It's this:

When you're a swim parent, you sit for hours in bleacher seats with no lumbar support. After just one hour, your whole body starts to hurt; and if you're at an especially sophisticated (interminable) meet, you're going to be there for five or six hours more, and then maybe again the next day for the same amount of time. Not only is it nice to support your back, but it's also nice to keep your bum cushioned.

I actually ordered the chair pictured above while sitting at one such meet. It's glorious, and now I bring mine to other events like hockey games, and pretty soon, to track meets. It's true I'm the only parent at hockey games with a cushioned stadium seat, but I get lots of compliments from the grandparents in attendance. It reminds me of my old lady swim suit, which also drew compliments from those thirty or forty years my senior.

But, anyway, the chair at the hockey games. In addition to providing back support, your butt doesn't get cold because you've provided a nice foam barrier between it and the icy metal.


Friday, November 24, 2017

Attitdue of Gratitude

Other years we've had 16 or 18 or 21 for Thanksgiving, but this year we were just six.

Did that stop us from making all the delicious items, including my first cracks at stuffing and gravy? No, it did not.

Did that stop us from being incredibly festive, listing at least one item each for which we are grateful? No, it did not.

Did that stop us from setting a gorgeous tablescape with the traditional handmade hand turkeys from when Mac and Shef were little? For sure not.

Also, by the way, and not to brag, but the stuffing and the gravy totally turned out. The stuffing tasted like sage, and the gravy was rich and salty.

As an added bonus, clean-up for six is quicker than clean-up for 20, so we had time to see Wonder at the local stadium-seating movie theater. It was lovely, and I cried through pretty much the whole thing.

All this, and I haven't even mentioned the turkey trot. Shef smoked me, per usual, but this time, I paced Mac to a 22:08 finish in his first ever 5k. The spectators were amazed that a little person ran so fast and gave him a lot of love. He inspired me to really kick it in, as well, for a solid 22:10.

Dan didn't go to the trot, but he did take this picture of us as we headed out the door:

And now, still an extra day off. Yay hooray.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Balls to the Head

This week has been a little nutty. For instance, right now I'm sitting at home with Mac who had a little fever and a massive headache. I worked the morning, and then I traded with Dan at lunch. The whole tradeoff was a little hairy, and I was reminded that I hate missing class. I hate getting subs. I feel responsible for my students and my colleagues, even though everyone needs a sick day now and then. I wish I could just submit an out-of-office thing that said I was working at home, guilt free.

Anyway, I'm just feeling rather out of sorts, a little headachey myself. Of course, my headache might be the residual effect of yesterday's recess duty.

There I was, watching kids play basketball and frisbee and stuff in the gym. Indoor recess - we have it all winter because middle schoolers don't wear coats - seems a little precarious. I supervise it once per week.

Midway through yesterday's session, a kid landed a soccer ball on top of the folded-up bleachers. Kids aren't allowed to go up there to get the balls themselves, so I walked over to retrieve it. On the way, a different soccer ball hit me in the back of the head. My glasses flew off my face. I had an instant ache behind my right eye. Plus, I was super embarrassed. Getting whomped in the head with a soccer ball in front of thirty seventh-grade boys - it's just not dignified.

I wasn't very gracious about the kicker's apology. "Watch where you're kicking!" I admonished, unsmiling. I could tell he was actually sorry, but come on - look ahead before you let loose!

I'm hoping things seem a little more normal starting tomorrow. No sick children, no dull headaches, no projectiles, no nothing. Teaching and learning. That's it.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

You know what's fun?

Halloween is fun for most people, but as you might remember, I hate fun. At my school, you get to wear costumes. I wore a t-shirt that I wrote on with a permanent marker. It says, "Grammar Police" and "Special Pronoun Force." Also other stuff like, "Your apostrophe won't make it plural," and "Ask me about who and whom!"

This was the second year in a row I've worn it, which I think makes it a classic.

"What are you?" the kids asked as they arrived from recess.

"The grammar police," I said, to minimal reaction. "This is as fun as I get."

They looked a little sad for me. After all, their costumes were super fun. Especially the blow-up t-rex and sumo wrestler. "Can you two deflate?" I asked. I hated to wreck their vibe, but the t-rex couldn't really see out of his costume. Also, the whirring of the electric motors required to keep the both of them puffed up was loud.

"Sure," they said.

And then, about ten minutes into my lesson, my boss showed up to do an impromptu observation. On Halloween. After recess. With the t-rex and sumo wrestler, the gorilla suit, a bunch of football players, and a Thor.

"Can I take my costume off?" the gorilla asked while I was giving directions. "I'm getting really sweaty."

"Yes," I said. "But, wait. Do you have clothes on underneath?"

He did, but it's always good to check.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Plans, etc.

I'd thought that I'd settle into a reasonable, once-per-week blog posting routine. You know, just to keep things alive over here while I'm finishing the book. Then, what happened was that I had parent-teacher conferences last week, and I've been recovering ever since.

Also, after the conferences, we had our accreditation visit at school.

And, whatever, it was life.

In any case, I am planning on writing once a week to keep things alive over here while I'm finishing the book. The only things I can think about are finishing the book, writing a query letter about the book, and what I might write for the next book.

Every day, I work feverishly on getting closer to a finalized version that I can give to readers.

Last night, I was feeling pretty overwhelmed with all of the other things I'm supposed to be doing besides finishing the book, things like taking care of the children and doing my full-time job. The level of anxiety was sort of extreme, so much so that Dan thought to text me during the day to check in.

"Anything else I can do to assist you?" he asked.

"I'd really like to finish and sell the book," I said.

This is, in fact, the case, but I might need to be a little less intense about it, at least from time to time.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Your Grandma Ain't My Grandma

I've realized that I need an additional hour per day to write. Yes, I now have a completed novel project, but the revisions (we're on draft 15 or 17 or 25, but who's counting) are taking a long time.

This is a problematic, but I hope not insurmountable fact.

Everyone knows I already write from 5 to 6am. Turns out there is a whole community of people who do this, and we all tweet at each other in the wee hours. We choose funny GIFs, including pictures of donuts on Fridays. I'm pretty sure #5amwritersclub is like the cool kids' lunch table, only not so much.


I'm thinking about when I could add an additional 60 minutes. I could maybe scrape out 20 minutes over lunch at my desk? Maybe 30 minutes after school on the days I don't have meetings or Mac's guitar lessons or the kids' sports practices? Maybe while I'm sitting at said sports practices?

Now that I'm closely examining the situation, I actually don't think I can find another whole hour per day, but maybe if I try really hard, I can up my weekly writing time from 6 hours or so to 8? That would speed along the process by a certain percentage. Like, it'll be 33% more time in which to revise.

My goal is to be #DoneByDecember, like all done. I think I can do that, but I'm talking about December 31st. All the days of December are mine to excavate for those few extra minutes.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The Big Bucks

In the sixth-grade writers workshop, we're deep into narrative writing. Kids have accumulated lots of small moment story seeds. They've chosen a favorite one, flash-drafted it, and now we're making sure we know not just what happens, but what the stories are REALLY about.

Did you know that writers plant the seeds of those deeper meanings throughout the piece, using tools like dialogue, symbols, precise actions, and internal thinking?

Anyway, it's true.

One young man has struggled a bit with his deeper meaning in recent days. In the story he likes best, he makes an amazing play on the football field.

"So, what about football is important to you?" I prompted in a whispered conference.

"It's fun," Brian said.

"Okay, but you've written in so much detail about setting up for the game, being with your teammates, the moment you really need to leave it all on the field - why does this all mean so much to you?"

It took a little back and forth, but eventually, we teased out some deeper meanings. It turns out, it's the feeling of camaraderie that gets to Brian. It's the constancy of football in his life, the tradition of it and the values of the game.

That was yesterday, and I was feeling good about Brian's progress. Today, I encouraged him to imagine a few different story arcs and get back to it, revealing that deeper meaning every step of the way.

But Brian wasn't into it. "My story doesn't have a deeper meaning," he said, loudly, so everyone could hear.

"You have a deeper meaning," I told him, quieter, modeling the appropriate volume. "We worked it out yesterday."

"All it is is that I had a huge sack." Loud and clear.

Giggles from Brian. Giggles from the audience he'd created.

"I had a huge sack," he repeated. "I mean, I had just a major sack."

We get it with the sacks, Brian! We all know you're not talking about felling the quarterback on the snap! We know you're not engaged in a rigorous exploration of themes!

"Look, Brian," I said pointing toward the spot I was hoping he'd settle into with his Chromebook and cutting to the chase. "We talked yesterday about the love of the game. I don't want to hear anymore about your scrotum and testicles."

There. But, that was a lot for the sixth graders in my room. One kid buried his whole head behind his screen, just losing it. I ignored all of them and played it straight.

"I want you to get back to your writing," I continued, turning away from Brian and hoping for the best. "You've got this."

Monday, September 25, 2017

How It's Done

My sister Mary was in town this weekend, and she agreed to drive with us to one of Shef's cross country meets. It was far - like an hour and a half - and because it's billed as "The World's Biggest Cross Country Meet," you have to park literally miles from the start of the race.

All of this is to say, coming to the meet was a major time suck for her, and she did it anyway. Thanks, Mary!

On the way home, she got to witness a strategy I use to keep the peace in the miniature van. The kids get to alternate song choices on Spotify. As the selections began, I gave a pronouncement, a necessity now that Shef's in eighth grade and listens to the vilest music I've ever heard.

"Okay," I said, "let's keep it clean. No n-words and not too many f-words."

I didn't think anything of this decree, but Mary started laughing so hard she choked on her water.

"What?" I said.

"High standards!" she coughed.

"Yes," I laughed, "A+ parenting over here. Take notes on how it's done! If you need parenting advice, you know whom to call!"

We howled.

It was funny, but the message was clear; and I stand by it: Some f-words are okay, but NOT TOO MANY.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Raging Ever Forward

We're in the groove now, this school year. Stacking up the five-day weeks, quizzes and homework, important - yet, controlled - discussions about pressing global issues. I'm just cruising along, doing my thing.

Tonight's a rarity on our calendar. We don't have evening obligations. We'll make some dinner, force the children to talk to us, maybe watch something on television before Dan and I each retreat into our work until we go to bed.

I'll try to read a few pages of the novel I've been picking away at forever, but my eyelids will get far too heavy, and I'll fall asleep before I've finished another chapter.

This weekend, I'll write my professional goals for the year. Each year, I articulate two or three, try really hard to get the sentences just right and sounding smart, and then I accomplish the goals. Or, at the very least, I make significant progress toward them. That's my way. Charging ahead.

Also, this weekend, I'll run a 10-mile race. After that, I'll do some weeks where I'll try to attend fitness classes. Then later, I'll start running again. I'm going to run a marathon during my year of 40. I'm also going to finish my book. It's going to be a big and important year.

Just like all the other years.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Three Good Pieces of Book News

Thing One: I'm reading another book of poetry. It's my third of the year. This one is by Layli Long Soldier, and its called Whereas. There was a rave in the NYT Book Review, and now I'm reading it. I'm not worrying about not getting every meaning and metaphor, but rather enjoying the words and their sounds in my head.

Thing Two: I got an email notification from Heinemann that my very own copy of Back and Forth is on its way right this very second. By the time I get home tonight, it should be here. You know the deal with this, right? It's Lee Heffernan's book? My friend and mentor and erstwhile Twin Tuesday collaborator? I can't wait to read this. I'll probably live-tweet the reading.

Thing Three: We're starting our first all-class read today in the 6th grade. It's called It Ain't So Awful, Falafel. I love it because it's funny, and it's about empathy and global competence. Perfect. Thank you, Firoozeh Dumas! And thank you, sixth graders, for reading it and practicing making inferences.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Calendar Master

I was actually feeling like back-to-school was pretty in hand for year 19. I wasn't even really working past 7pm. I hadn't messed up anything major. The kids (my own) were getting to their activities. I felt confident and competent - a true pro. Super Mom, if you will.

You see where this is going, right?

On Thursday, I was walking out of lunch with KK, and she said, "Oh, I got a dinner reservation for 6:00 at Spoon River on Saturday."

"What?" I said. "We have plans on Saturday?"

Turns out, we'd agreed a month ago to accompany our bosom friends to a fundraiser this very night. Oh yeah! Right! Of course! And I'd already made plans for that night with another friend on whom I'd recently canceled. And Mac has a hockey game and no alternative transportation.

I'll fix it, I told myself. And I totally did fix it! Success! Until a kid piped up at the end of A period on Friday, "Hey, weren't we supposed to go take pictures?" Yep! Yes, we were! 30 minutes before she reminded me!

And, this weekend there are several lessons to rehash, one of which is going to take some serious time. Don't worry! I'll get it done between Shef's CC meet, the fundraiser, a family reunion of sorts, and the dinner with that friend that I've now canceled on twice. Whee! I've totally got this.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Oops! It's Been too Long

We're cruising into the routine with the last of the special introductory schedules on tap for today. That's good because my students are getting sick of these precious anomalies.

Let's just do the regular, predictable thing without random assemblies and advisory meetings, ok?!

I myself have had to make a couple of schedule changes that I'm on the fence about. Maybe you know I usually work on my upmarket contemporary fiction book from 5-6am? At least on school days?

Well, by the time I got out of bed at 5:03, put socks on, whipped up some breakfast, and tweeted to #5amWritersClub, it was like 5:17. Then, I had to take a break at 5:40 to make tea, and before you know it was 6 and I had written for only 35 minutes.

If I'm going to be #DoneByDecember with the whole book, that kind of schedule just isn't going to work. So anyway, the solution was clear. The alarm had to be set for 4:43. Now, I'm all ensconced by 5 and get a full 50 minutes or so for this round of revisions.

Yes, it's a little early in the AM, but the characters are getting signature objects. The locations are getting arcs. A minor character is becoming appropriately fleshed out. It's happening.

In the worry column, I'm starting to get a little stressed about copy editing. I'm not good at copy editing my own work, but hiring a professional is pretty expensive for a hobby book that doesn't yet have an audience. Especially when I've already had two go-rounds with a structural professional. But,  let's just think about this later.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

First Day of School

I like the first day of school okay, but mostly I like to have it finished. The best parts of school are when we're well-oiled and hanging tough. That's not how we were this morning at our house. Mac, for one, was having trouble adjusting to the reality of the weekday morning.  Shef then discovered while we were en route to the school site that he'd forgotten his math packet. Alas, we had to turn around.

Never mind all that. In the end, we made it to school and cruised on through to recess. While I was supervising the field and sport court, some sixth-grade boys approached me, clearly distressed. The problem stemmed from football usage. It seemed a pair of kids were hogging the only football, just playing catch, while 20 or so other guys wanted to play a real game.

"Where are the kids playing catch?" I asked.

"They went down to the other field," the boys told me.

"Hmm," I said. "Well, I see a soccer ball over there," I pointed. "You could get a game of World Cup going; or I see some extra basketballs, so you could play that." The boys seemed unimpressed. "A tag game is another possibility," I suggested.

"Ma'am," said a ring leader, butting in, "thanks for laying out the options, but we have our hearts set on football."

As I didn't have a football, I couldn't make this dream a reality. The recess teacher helped eventually. I hope this conflict doesn't recur. This Ma'am wasn't super effective in resolution.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Were You Wondering about Back to School Workshops?

We've been working pretty hard, preparing for the students to arrive next week. Before that happens, my fellow teachers and I have a million meetings. There have been six meetings so far.

During the meetings, I add to my to-do list. The list is filled with items that I cannot complete during meetings. The list has gotten to be about a full page at this point.

At the end of the day full of meetings, I changed into my running clothes, the clothes I remembered to bring with me to work for the purpose of exercising at the end of the day.

After I ran and while I waited to drive cross country carpool, I crossed three things off the long list. The tasks were all related to classroom decor. It'll feel good to have the classroom looking great. It'll get finished over the weekend, I'm pretty sure. That's when the magic will happen.

That's all I've got.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

That's a Wrap

Summer's coming to an end. There are messages in my inbox about meetings next week. Agendas, to-dos, class lists, and all the rest.

This weekend, I'm going to just prepare myself with some hard core relaxation and writing and of course, driving the children hither and yon. I've got two books I want to finish. I'm behind on my book review tweets. I need to buy some name small name tags from the teacher store. Oh, and my driver's side headlight is out.

These are the kinds of tasks that are foremost in my mind on this fine Saturday. Also, there's the annual motto hunt. I love mottos. I've been listening to a new podcast called Happier in Hollywood, and the writing-partner hosts have one that I'm certainly adopting: "It's a good job, and I enjoy it."

A helpful reminder that is also true.

I'm also having a motto about being a great team player and not making too many waves. It's, "Get on the bus." When I say this to myself, I'm going to also sing the iconic ditty from a very odd children's television show that Shef liked. "Do do-do-do, Get on the Bus!" Very cheerful.

And finally in the motto department, of course, I'll continue to Be a Bright Light. It's just hard not to since that's just coded into my very nature.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

I Don't Feel Good About Bachelor in Paradise

Part One:
You know, there are really important things going on in the world. I'm thinking and reading about the things nonstop, and yet, I watched Bachelor in Paradise for 2 hours last night.

And, to make things even worse, it's only because my DVR was not properly programmed that I won't be watching two more hours tonight. And darn it, I'm kind of disappointed to miss Carly and Evan's wedding! They met on Paradise another time, made out a lot on national television, and have now wed in front of this year's Paradise contestants, who've undoubtedly wished them well.

I might actually watch the episode when it pops up on-demand at some point. It's a terrible decision and a horrible waste of time.

And yet.

Part Two:
I'm thinking about lowering my book reading quota for next year. My problem is that if I say I'm going to do something, I have to do it. For each of the last four years, I've said I would read 52 books, and now there's no way around it. It's fine because I'm currently six books ahead of schedule, a situation I engineered to account for the coming storm of back-to-school.

So, things are good in the book department, but what about the New Yorkers that I keep recycling before reading them? What about the many, many news articles I have to read to keep up with the doings of our completely insane and Nazi-apologist president? What about the New York Times Book Review?

What about Bachelor in Paradise?

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Fall is Coming

In a week, I'll be back to work. That's fine because I do love my work. Sometimes, however, I wish I could be less consumed by work; or, alternatively, slightly more satisfied by a consistent, solid effort instead of regularly requiring of myself a Herculean one.

It's the preemptive school-year exhaustion that has me fantasizing about other career paths. For instance, I recently learned that I could probably make a decent living at Trader Joe's. I ran into Dan's cousin at our local store. He's a Mate, which is like Assistant Manager. He has a retirement account, a salary comparable to mine, and he spends his downtime in his rented art studio making stuff.

I also have downtime where I write stuff, but it's between 5 and 6am, and I don't have a studio so much as a stool at the kitchen counter.

Barnes and Noble also seems like a nice job, as does shelving books at the local branch of our Hennepin County Library.

Of course, none of these new career paths would have the significant benefit of working with America's youth in such close capacity, which I do quite enjoy. Also, I've trained hard to be good at my job, and it would be sad to put all of that education and experience out to pasture.

In the end, I'm probably not going to have to break the news to Dan that I'm starting all over as a Crew member at the Woodbury Trader Joe's. But, I did notice that they have a part-time opening.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

A Victorious Moment

Well, the tire pressure light went on in my car. Annoying! But did I cower and give up? No, I did not.

Rather, right after a delightful coffee with Mary, during which we talked excitedly about our upcoming school years, I proceeded to the gas station and parked by the "Free Air" sign.

I went inside and asked the clerk for a tire pressure gauge, which she cheerfully handed over. On the way in, I saw another self-sufficient woman checking her own tire pressure with her own gauge. "I should get one of those and keep it in the glove box," I thought. But for today, I just used the one from Holiday.

I pretended I had successfully done this a million times before because, fake it till you make it. I scanned the tire for the appropriate max PSI. I revealed the little valve and measured. All the tires were low. I experimented with how long to hold on the air hose to make the pressure rise sufficiently.

A couple of people who also seemed to want Free Air gave me side-eye. Maybe I was taking a long time? I ignored them because, back off.

When I got back in the car, I was initially disappointed because the pressure light remained illuminated, but then, guess what? After I drove for a few blocks, it went off. I'd done it. Success!

It was a small step for womankind, especially because I personally witnessed other women practicing preventative car maintenance this very day. But, it was a large step for me. In the words of someone who must have said it for the first time some time, "If you believe it, you can achieve it."

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Right Clothes for the Job

I have a thing this summer where if I'm not feeling like doing something like painting or running, I just put on the appropriate attire. I have to get dressed anyway, so I might as well put on the clothes for the item on the to-do list.

Then, maybe an hour later after I've had my matcha latte, I'll be like, "Well, I guess I'll just do the thing since I'm already dressed for it."

It's working. Right now for instance, I don't feel like working on my Refresh the Family Room painting project. I did, however, feel like getting out of my pajamas, so I put on my painting leggings and t-shirt. When I'm done writing this, I'll probably just put a little paint in the tray. My other trick with painting is I put a moderate amount of paint in the tray. When it's gone, I'm done painting for the day. It's less of a grind that way.

Since I'm sharing, one of my best tricks for running is to choose a podcast episode that's the length of time you want to make myself run. Then, just run till it's done. Stop wherever you are the moment the hosts say, "That's it for this week," or whatever. Then, you get a nice walking cool down.

I'm into these little hacks. Making things just a little easier. Feeling proud about checking things off.

Monday, August 7, 2017

4 Things That Are Making Me Happy This Week

New Supplies: I go back to work two weeks from today. It's totally fine, and I'm pretty ready. Plus - yay! - it's time for school supplies. New pens, new notebooks, new Dixon Ticonderoga Black pencils. I bought some awesome Stabilo pens this morning at Dick Blick. Also, a Rhodia notebook specifically designed for tracking meetings. I go to a lot of those, and this tool will increase my happiness in several ways. First, my meeting notes will be uniform in style and easy to find. Second, there's a column just for action items, and I can check these off to be sure I've followed through. And finally, I can number the meetings like page numbers at the bottom. I feel like I go to meetings all the flipping time, and this will allow me to quantify and report back on the truth of that. I might also categorize the type and usefulness of each meeting with an exclusive rating scale. Buckle up!

Peanut Butter on Rice Cakes: Plus a drizzle of honey. I love this snack. I also love beef sticks. And no one's here at lunch time to judge my choices, so I'll eat those things as much as I want to.

Podcasts: In the last couple of days, I've listened to some great episodes of Happier with Gretchen Rubin, This American Life, The Daily with Michael Barbaro, and The Turnaround with Jesse Thorn. I think I myself would be an excellent podcast host. In my other new notebook (the one not for meetings), I plan to brainstorm some possible podcasting angles. I mean, it's really time for my media empire to really take off.

The Goodwill Closet: I have a closet where I keep items for the Goodwill. When it's more or less full, I go to the donation drive-through and gleefully chuck of all the things into the appropriate bins. Guess what? The closet's pretty full! I might stop by this very afternoon and unload. Such a wonderful feeling. Am I right?

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Alone Report

It's so weird when the children are gone. It feels like a ton of headspace just opens up magically in the places where I'm not worrying about what they're doing now or next. I seem to have a longer attention span, and at the same time, I'm prone to feeling sort of heavy and tired, always on the verge of a nap.

I also feel, as I usually do during any stretch of down time, an intense obligation to "use it wisely." In this case, though, taking long baths in Dead Sea salts and catching up on Game of Thrones (I'm five seasons behind) are wise uses of my time. I'm pretty sure.

Today so far, I wrote my daily word count quota, rather more easily than normal. I'm planning to do a little structural work on the novel now, finding places for missing scenes and maybe doing a little freewriting on the connection between the two leads. I also went to my exercise class and to Costco. I forgot to get toilet paper and the pharmacy was closed, but that's okay because I can just go back there in the vast expanses of free time I'll have this week, maybe tomorrow or the next day.

I took a Dead Sea Salt bath, during which I meditated and read a chapter of the Crazy Horse biography I'm struggling through.

I made myself deal with a dead bird in the back yard. I have a strong aversion to dead animals like bats, mice, and birds. It's almost even more paralyzing than the aversion I have to the live varieties of these species.

Anyway, it's just after noon and I have all day still. Amazing.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Here's What's Going On: Camp Prep

It's time to get ready to ship the children off to camp where they'll stay for two weeks.

I hate to say this, but let's all give a cheer. It's time for the kids to go off for two weeks and commune with other young people in a youth-centric environment run by awesome and dirty college kids who are not their parents.

And, it's time for the parents to do whatever it is we want to do without feeding, coordinating, driving, cajoling, and refereeing their every activity.

Now - and I hate to be greedy - but wouldn't it be nice if their duffels could be packed by someone other than me? I've already washed all the clothes and determined that neither child has sufficient underwear for the duration (it's on the Target list along with travel-sized shampoo and more socks). The least some other mysterious person could do is actually go to the Target, purchase the items on the list, and then put all the stuff in the bags, making sure that they zip.

Mac also wants his hair dyed blue for departure. It's not that hard. Just go to the Walgreens, buy the kit, and follow the directions. I'll be watching tv downstairs in case you have any questions.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Reading Report

I'm really relieved to note that July has been a big reading month. Before I posted the big number (7 finished so far), I was mildly concerned that I wouldn't meet my 52-book quota.

As you know, I prefer to accomplish all my goals, leaving no to-do list item unchecked. I did remind myself, however, that I'm just doing 52 books this year, and not 57 or 64 or 75; so being "on track," or one or two books ahead of schedule according to Goodreads is totally fine and not behind.

Even if I'm not in danger of failing to hit the magic number, I did discover, however, that I'm woefully behind in certain categories. For instance, I've only finished 8 works on nonfiction. Similarly, it's go-time on children's and YA. I've only finished 5! That's totally unlike me, and I feel a little deficient, a little less-than, a little inferior at being a literacy educator for young people. Plus, I can hardly recommend a top five come year-end without reading at least 15 of a given genre.

I'm glad I stopped to assess. My priorities are now clear. Children's and YA and nonfiction. And, let's be honest, some adult fiction because I can't help it.

Now we know.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Feminism Problems

I have a really hard time coordinating and scheduling home repairs and maintenance, and after 16 years of suffering, I've decided to blame sexism.

I call the people, I inquire, I make the appointments, I greet them with my usual charm and goodwill. I request the estimates and suggest the dates.

And then?


Many vendors just sort of ignore me after that. "I'll send you the estimate," the roofer said. And yet, I did not receive the estimate. "We'll start the work the week of July 17th," said the handyman. The handyman has presumably disappeared from the face of the earth.

I think the only home repair/improvement provider I've successfully dealt with is the landscaper, who is a woman. And maybe, now that I'm thinking about it, I've had some success with the rodent removal technicians and the one plumber who gave me helpful advice.

In my current situation with the roofer and the handyman, I just had to give up and forward the contact information to my husband. Maybe they'll recognize his manliness and actually communicate with him. Maybe they'll want to do the work if they know that there's testosterone on the premises.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Be Who You Are, And Be That Well

I went to a religious high school with two exceedingly quotable founders. One of founder Saint Jane de Chantal's best directives is, "Be you who are, and be that well." Like, don't try to go and massively change in order to gain favor from anyone, including yourself. Instead, hone in on your best, most authentic version, and let that goodness shine through.

That's kind of what Gretchen Rubin is saying in this book that I've become obsessed by, Better Than Before. In it, she talks about knowing yourself as the key to habit acquisition. 

And who cares about habits? Everybody probably should. Rubin's premise is that habits are "the invisible architecture of our everyday lives," so your habits determine what you accomplish and, more importantly, how you feel.

I'm only a little more than halfway through the book, but it's already inspired me to try a few new things (or return to some tried and true routines) to invigorate the habits that I know make me feel happier and more successful. In the book, Rubin offers various strategies you can use to implement and maintain habits. Some of the most appealing to me as an Upholder (that's my tendency, according to Rubin's framework - what's yours?) are Monitoring and Scheduling.

Here's what I'm going to monitor this week:
  • I've known for awhile that I probably missed a food when I stuck with some of the eliminations from the diet last fall that helped me lessen my symptoms of psoriasis. After several experiments, I'm pretty sure it's corn. So, this week, I'm going to monitor my food choices and make sure I'm not eating processed corn. I'm going to have a "no corn" item in my habits tracker in my little to-do list book that I carry with me.
  • I'm going to make a list of the things I want to do multiple times per week - write my book (there are almost no new scenes left to write, FYI), exercise, and blog. I'm going to put a number of check-boxes next to each of these. When I fill the check boxes (four for blogging, for example), I can stop worrying about the tasks until next week. This is a combo of monitoring and scheduling.
  • Finally, I'm going to monitor my supplement taking. I'm supposed to take a digestive enzyme thing and also probiotics, but sometimes I forget. If I put those things on my to-do list and check off the box, I do it.
And now, as a bonus, I've used the strategy of Accountability to ensure that I'll do these things by writing them here. Win-win-win.

The time that Gretchen Rubin helped me reconceptualize failure

Habits and attitudes to help writers.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

It's Finally Feeling a Little Like Summer

summer discoveries, summer, matcha tea

I'm finally sleeping in a little, my feet hitting the floor in the 6 o'clock hour instead of my school wake-up time of 5:15. I'm drinking my tea while looking at Facebook and the New York Times. I'm writing new pages in the mid-afternoon while kids are doing whatever.

Most recently, in case you're curious, Mac is throwing playing cards, which is apparently a thing.

Also, I'm listening to the new music by my brother, Noah Engh, which he recorded in his home studio while his baby napped. And, I'm trying to catch up with every single friend and family member I have.

It's good! I'm looking forward to the two weeks that the children will be at camp, as those will really feel like vacation (no driving them, no playdates, no haggling with them over book completion). Those two weeks are coming right before I go back to school on August 21st. A great reprieve.

So. Onward. Today, I'm sharing three amazing summer discoveries:

  1. The Happier in Hollywood podcast. My friend Susan told me about this. It's Sarah Fain and Liz Craft, lifelong friends and creative partners, talking about their work as tv writers and producers. It's about creativity and strategy and life hacks, and I love it. I've listened to almost all of the episodes now in the last couple of days, and if you're thinking of trying it out, I recommend this one with Marcia Clark. She seems totally badass. 
  2. Ben and Jerry's is making almond milk ice cream in really good flavors. I have a pretty limited diet to help with inflammation (psoriasis), and dairy is a definite no-no, so this Ben and Jerry's invention is fabulous for me. I'm still not supposed to eat the other things in the pints like sugar and chocolate, but every once in awhile, this is really good.
  3. A daily matcha latte. I'm a total convert. Matcha, ground up green tea powder, is supposedly really good for you with tons of antioxidants. I have a kind from Whole Foods I like that also has turmeric and ginger and cinnamon in it. I don't prepare it according to the tea box directions, but rather according to the Instagram directions I linked first.
This summer is not bad, not bad at all.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

"What Bit You?" And Other Unanswerable Psoriatic Questions

Recently one of my Instagram pals posted a photo that showed her varicose veins. In the post, she says she loves the photo and the other gals who are in it with her. Plus, she writes, she usually feels "100" about her legs. She used the cool 100 emoji you can use, but I don't know how to get it on Blogger.

Anyway, one of the gals in the picture with my pal posted it on Facebook. Since she's fine with the veins, my friend was surprised to find herself worrying about strangers' opinions when it got a broader audience.

I loved that post, and it's inspired me to try to become 100 with my psoriasis spots. It's kind of shadowy in the picture above, but you can see that there are several pink lesions there on my calf. The other calf has more, but smaller spots. There are also some on my arms and upper back. That's pretty much where you'd notice them if you saw me around town. I've got bigger concentrations on the sections of my skin that are generally covered by clothing, like my upper thighs and torso.

My dislike of the psoriasis is well documented on this blog. But maybe hating it is the wrong approach? I've been thinking I should be a little more "meh" about the whole thing. Whatever. It's just a skin thing I can't really control.

Sometimes, though, I'm in the middle of doing something else like hanging out with friends or watching my children, and someone will call attention to my condition. "What bit you?!" someone recently shrieked across a parking lot. I mean, it's true that many of the spots look like insect bites. This person obviously didn't mean anything by the query and probably wishes she hadn't asked.

Another time, I was just walking along the pool deck and someone shouted, "Do you have a rash?!"

A Boy Scout (I'm not keen on them) at Custer State Park stood right in front of me at the swimming beach and said in disgust, "Are those ALL mosquito bites?!" He could see the upper thigh clusters at that point, which may have disturbed him.

I mean, curiosity is a natural human inclination. I totally understand it, and I myself wonder things all the time, personal things about other people and their physical conditions. I guess my point is, we can help each other become 100 with our differences if we don't ask about them right away or in a super public situation. Doesn't that seem fair? You can ask in a 1:1 environment if you know the person. Then, I'll totally be happy to describe the whole problem of psoriasis to you, every little detail.

Otherwise, I'll just be doing my own thing, heading towards 100.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Vacation Report: Part 3

Wind Cave National Park

We're now sitting in our living room catching up on The Bachelorette. We all agree that the trip was one of our best with ratings ranging from 4 to 5 stars out of 5. Here are some highs and lows from the last two days in Custer State Park:

Horseback Trail Ride: this was Mac's #1 priority for the trip, and it met all of his expectations. From the barn, we had a great view of Crazy Horse Memorial, which brings me to...

Crazy Horse Memorial: Dan and I were left with many perplexing questions. Why was the museum focused so much on the life and family of the sculptor, and not on Crazy Horse himself and the Lakota people? Why does the white family of the sculptor control the funds and timeline? Why does everyone accept the sculptor's choice not to accept state or federal funds, even after his death and even after the project has taken more than 60 years so far? We don't have satisfying answers to these questions, but via extensive research, I have discovered that other people and journalists have posed the very same ones.

Wind Cave: I also had questions about the Wind Cave, some about the Lakota people, the original discoverers of the cave. These questions were not adequately answered by Park Ranger Jenny, I think because she had only worked at Wind Cave National Park for three weeks. I'm not trying to judge, but I'm not sure that Jenny actually had the appropriate level of intellectual curiosity about the Wind Cave. She told me she'd rather be in the law enforcement division of park rangering, rather than leading cave tours. This showed. 

Evan's Plunge Mineral Pool: Wow. This place sucked. We went because hot springs are usually good for my skin, but we all hated this venue and cannot recommend it. I'll describe it in three adjectives: dirty, dated, and lame. And my skin is not improved.

The 10-hour Drive Home: We finished listening to Jurassic Park and no one yelled at anyone. Pretty amazing. 

I can't wait to plan our next trip, which will be to L.A. in January. Maybe I'll have my Harry Potter tattoo by the time we visit his World.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Vacation Report: Part 2

I'm not trying to brag, but we did do tons of cool stuff yesterday.

National Parks: We busted it to the Badlands National Park at 7:15am to beat the god-forsaken heat. This was smart, and we were able to enjoy many scenic vistas, as well as an exciting hike on the Notch Trail. You've gotta scramble up a ladder on that path and then remind your children fifty times not to fall off steep drop-offs. In the Visitor Center, we watched a film about these rock formations, built by lava and then constant erosion, and the wildlife that lives among them. I was fascinated by the reintroduction of the black-footed ferret and relieved to know that the park no longer supports large predators like grizzly bears.

Driving: We took a scenic highway to Custer State Park and noted the vastly different terrain in South Dakota as compared to our homeland. We listened with rapt attention to Jurassic Park. Something funny is that since lots of dinosaur bones have been discovered here in South Dakota (but not in the Badlands because it used to be covered with a shallow, warm sea), there are random dinosaur statues hanging out along the roads. We saw one of a brontosaur just as the ill-fated Land Cruisers left the control station in our novel. 

Water Sports and Trail Running: I'm not even kidding - we're only halfway through the day! Luckily, I think these quick sentences suffice: Mac and I rented paddleboards and Dan, Shef, and I all ran on some unpaved trails in shifts. It's much cooler in Custer than in Wall.

State Parks: On our way to Keystone and Mount Rushmore, we drove the famed Wildlife Loop in Custer State Park, where we're staying. We saw these species: deer, Tatanka, pronghorn antelope, burro, and rabbit. We didn't see any dinosaurs, but I kept imagining we would because of our book.

National Monuments: Phew, this is the last thing. We went to Mount Rushmore National Monument, hiked the Presidential Trail, checked out a video about the carving, and watched the Night Lighting Ceremony. I cried a little bit when they invited the members of the armed services, past and present, to be recognized on stage and to retire the colors for the night. The only downside here is that Shef found himself to be terrified of the giant sculpture. I mean, I understand. The heads are a little creepy. With coaching, he talked himself down and made it through the whole experience. I warned him that Crazy Horse may be worse. I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Vacation Report: Part One

We're here in Western South Dakota on a dream family vacation. Here's a report so far:

Driving: We mostly really enjoyed our seven-hour trip to Wall, home of Wall Drug, thanks to banging playlists and Jurassic Park on Audible. The most complaining we experienced (by the children, not by Dan and me) was when we visited the rest stop pictured above. This stop was highly recommended to me. The recommender only mentioned the view of the Missouri River behind this sculpture, and not the sculpture itself. This is probably because the sculpture was just installed last year. Here's what I learned about it: It's called "Dignity," was done by Dale Lamphere and represents the "courage, perseverance, and wisdom of the Dakota and Lakota culture in South Dakota."

Souvenirs: What's really fun is to bring children into a series of souvenir shops. Several times, I suggested choosing bags of shiny rocks, which is what I remember getting on out-West vacations in my youth. Instead, Shef chose a keychain, Mac chose a cap gun, and I chose an awesome gnome figurine, which I broke on the way back to the Best Western. Damnit.

Weather: It was 105 degrees Fahrenheit in Wall when we arrived. Now it's only 99, and we're headed back to the pool.

Coming Up: Tomorrow, I'll report on Badlands National Park and our drive to Custer State Park. Those things will be the best things ever.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Washing Machine Repair and Bike Pumps

Summer's clipping along, and I'm just taking care of business as usual, checking off exciting boxes like cleaning out the garage and dusting wooden blinds. It's been a magical time.

This very morning, I have a repair person here fixing my Whirlpool Cabrio washer. Turns out the repairs I need are pretty routine, and my technician, Andy, has performed them many times. Lucky for me, he's here right now because he says the next stage in the washer's current trajectory would have been catastrophic leaking. The leaking could have started imminently, but now it won't because of Andy and because of my impeccable timing. And because of my 400 dollars.

I was like, What?!, but then I looked up new high-efficiency washers, and they would cost significantly more. Whatever.

Another really fascinating development is that I'm finally getting a new bike pump and probably today. It turns out I really like to ride my bike, but I'm super bad at pumping the tires. Every time I go to do it, I open the valves and try to attach the pump, and it doesn't work. It falls off, the air won't go in, I have to use two hands and awkwardly work the pump with my stomach while I hold it on the tire.

I've watched YouTube videos and adapted between Schrader and Presta valves - I have Presta, Shef has Schrader, and the pump is crap for both types. The process makes me feel like a moron, and I hate it.

So today, after 10 years of struggling with it, I've finally decided that the pump is broken, and it's time to get a new one. If the new one doesn't work, and it turns out I have a pump disability, I'm going to be really disappointed. I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Conference Takeaways

I went to a week-long teacher training. It was super good, and I learned a lot. One thing in particular I learned is that young teachers have very long eyelashes. They're doing something to get them - some kind of salon procedure or serum that makes them grow. What happened was that I myself now would like to have very long eyelashes.

I also learned about teaching, specifically creating a great classroom community. But the eyelashes! That's really going to stick with me.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Harry Potter Identity Crisis

I've been a Harry Potter nerd for about 18 years now, ever since the kids in my 8th-grade classes handed the books to me when I started teaching. And since the very beginning of my fandom, I started to think about which Hogwarts house I myself would be sorted into.

It was obviously Ravenclaw. Traits of Ravenclaws include wit, wisdom, intelligence, and creativity.

I didn't mind that everyone kind of wants to be a Gryffindor. Gryffindors are courageous, daring, and chivalrous. Harry Potter himself is one, and so are all his best friends. It would be cool to be a Gryffindor!

But, their defining characteristic is bravery, no question. I am only brave when it's absolutely necessary, so I knew that couldn't be me.

Anyway, maybe three years ago, I joined Pottermore, the ultimate official J. K. Rowling site for Harry Potter nerds. There, you can take the ultimate official sorting quiz. You can only take it one time. The results are binding! I held my breath, was brutally honest, and...

It said I was Hufflepuff.

Well, I've always imagined Hufflepuffs to be sort of blundering, doughy-faced, and dull, notwithstanding handsome and heroic Cedric Diggory's placement there. The result of the quiz triggered a major identity crisis. As such, I began feverish research and eventually, I came to terms with the sorting. When I really started thinking about it, I imagined that the Pottermore quiz had, in fact, identified my better angels - angels like loyalty, hard work, dedication, and fair play. And Cedric Diggory.

So, I've been merrily telling anyone who cares (and some people who don't) that I'm Hufflepuff. Some in the know tell me that's totally wrong, and that I'm obviously Ravenclaw, but I'm smug about it. "I'm loyal and kind," I tell them. What can they say to that?

And then, for the 20th anniversary of the first Harry Potter book's publication, along comes a new Harry Potter sorting quiz from Time Magazine. This one is researched by umpteen social scientists and tested with 10,000 data points. It claims to be the definitive source on Harry Potter sorting. I took it, knowing full well that I'm Hufflepuff now and proud of it.

It said I'm Ravenclaw, with Hufflepuff as a close second.


After studying the new quiz and thinking hard about each question, I think I understand the discrepancy. The Time Magazine quiz is prizing work ethic as the tippy-top Ravenclaw trait; whereas Pottermore assigns that trait at least partially to Hufflepuffs. The Time Magazine quiz puts humility as a top Hufflepuff trait.

Work ethic is obviously my defining characteristic, especially as no house lists "compulsion" as a commonality. As for humility? Let's not delve too deeply there.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Novel Snip: Close to Life

One of the most fun things about my book project is writing the complaints from parents against one of my leads, a high school English teacher with more than a decade of experience. She's me and she isn't me, but this letter? This letter could very well be in my own file. 

Sheila, the writer of this letter, is a mad parent who works for a US Senator. She's complaining about Isobel's anti-Americanism. Things get a little more complicated for poor Isobel from here.

Dear Principal Wallace,

As you know, I have been an engaged and supportive Liston Heights parent for ten years. During the past decade, I have had the distinct pleasure of collaborating with a number of top-notch Liston Heights educators. On many occasions, I’ve connected classrooms - some of which have included my own daughter, Erin Warner, as a student - with various elected officials. Last fall, you and I collaborated on a town hall event held at Liston Heights High School with Senator William McGuire, for whom I serve as State Director. As you’ll remember, Senator McGuire and his wife, Rita, sent their own children through the Liston Heights school system. I know firsthand that the Senator counts our schools as one of the treasures of the state.

It pains me then, because of my long and happy affiliation with the district, to bring an unfortunate matter to your attention. For many months now, I’ve been concerned about the pedagogy and professionalism of Isobel J. Johnson, a member of your English Department. I checked with the State Licensing Board, and while Ms. Johnson does appear to be properly credentialed, I’m quite certain that her teaching is far below the standard I’ve come to expect of the faculty at Liston Heights High School. I will outline my specific concerns below, but before I do, I want to point out that this is only my third formal complaint against a Liston Heights teacher. That is to say, I don’t take this action lightly. I think, if you’ll review the files of Mrs. Margaret Hall and Mr. Peter Harrington, you’ll see my complaints mirrored the eventual findings of the administration, and neither teacher continued to be employed by the district following my intervention.

Principal Wallace, you may not be aware that right in your own building, Ms. Johnson is infecting your students - bright and open-hearted young people - with a dangerous, insidious feeling of Anti-Americanism. With each classic Ms. Johnson hands to our children, she encourages them, under the guise of “seeing multiple perspectives,” to undermine these timeless works of literature. Imagine my surprise, for instance, when my daughter reported to me that Atticus Finch represents white supremacy, rather than the beacon of justice generations of Americans have known him to be. And now, while reading what is truly a Great American Novel, Ms. Johnson is asking not only what The Great Gatsby has to say about the American Dream, but rather she requires teenagers to question the sexuality and sexual preferences of the characters. 

Principal Wallace, I’m asking you to investigate Ms. Johnson’s methods and sources. I can’t be the only Liston Heights parent to object to a teacher of American Literature flaunting her own Anti-Americanism. Once you’ve concluded your review of Ms. Johnson’s practices, I’d like to meet with you to discuss your findings.

You have my very best wishes,
Sheila Warner

State Director
The Office of Senator William McGuire

Fun, right? I'm revising like crazy, and this is from Chapter 11. Maybe only 7 versions or so to go? We'll see.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Summer Status Report

Okay, I'm getting into the swing. Being productive. Working on my book. Finishing other people's books. Thinking about writing book reviews. Cleaning the garage. That kind of stuff.

Here are a few of things I've been thinking about:

The Dunning-Kruger Effect

I heard a This American Life that featured this syndrome. Basically, if Dunning-Kruger is in play, you think you're much better at something than you are. You think you're awesome (or at least above average), but you really suck. And, your friends probably won't clue you in.

Since then, I've been trying to figure out what my Dunning-Kruger things are - things I feel pretty confident about, but that I'm really quite bad at. So far, I think it might be dancing. But part of Dunning-Kruger says for sure that I CAN'T know that I'm really bad at the thing. It's a blind spot.

We'll all have a Dunning-Kruger moment at some point, and no one will tell us. Isn't that kind of unnerving?

How Do You Know If Your Book is Done?

I mean, I know my own book isn't done. I'm only on version 7 or 8 or 10. I'm assuming we'll go up to 15 revisions before it's ready to shop around? But, when I get there, will I know, or will it be a Dunning-Kruger thing? As luck would have it, my teacher just wrote a blog post about this.

It seems like I'm just in the mix of approaching doneness, but 2.5 steps from achieving it. I'm on the step of paying a freelance editor, a step that many people may be surprised to know is standard. In any case, I'm hoping that if I continue to work on it several hours per day this summer, I can make progress slightly faster than when I was doing my demanding, full-time job and writing just from 5 to 6am.

Psoriais Flare

I had an epic one at the close of the school year, and it's still not gone. So annoying, but I'm carrying on.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Nine Things for Nine Years

Our youngest child is nine years old today. Here are nine things about him:

  1. He doesn't sleep very well. He hasn't ever, but we're all used to it now.
  2. He does things his own way. You can't predict what the way will be, and you probably can't influence the way. You have to roll with it and trust the master. The master is Mac himself.
  3. Two summers ago, he hated swimming so much that he cried about lessons and refused to get in the water. Of course, I wouldn't let him quit swimming because of safety and principle, so he sat sobbing on the edge of the pool for the full hour allotted to practice. This happened day after day.  Now, however, he loves swimming and wants to go to races. He laughs when I remind him of those other times with the incessant crying.
  4. Mac's not a morning person. He's so not a morning person that about six years ago, we began dressing him in clean clothes at bedtime in lieu of pajamas. This eliminated some morning tantrums, and it's a practice we've continued to this very day. Or, we just let it go, and he wears the same outfit for an entire weekend. It's a little gross, but it's not life threatening.
  5. He writes books, types them up, and gets them catalogued in the Lower School library. There's a series about Hamburger Boy and multiple issues of a magazine called Nature News.
  6. Mac hates potatoes, mostly even French fries.   
  7. When he is sleeping, he's super active. If you let him in your bed, he'll kick you in the face while you're in the midst of your REM cycle. Just don't let him in there. If you have to because it's eleven for goodness sake, and he's not anywhere near sleeping, block your whole self with pillows before you close your eyes.
  8. He loves school and does everything his teachers tell him to. This shocks me every time I hear it at conferences.
  9. Mac's very particular about his appearance - hair, clothes, shoes. If he doesn't like it or it isn't his style, he won't wear it. Because see #2. #2 is really all you need to know. 

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Annals of Medicine: Physical Report

I've neglected my health now for a couple of years (with the exception, of course, of handling the skinny poop). Now, however, as of this very day, I've finally achieved my routine physical. As I waited on the exam table, I felt simultaneously guilty and accomplished

At one point during the appointment, my doctor said, "This is odd - I ordered these labs on you two years ago, but..."

"But," I broke in, filled with shame, "I didn't do the labs because I was in a rush to go back to work, and then I just never came back."

The doctor nodded sagely. "I have two little kids," she said.


"Today, though," I told her, "I've arranged to stay until I'm all done in the lab. It's all getting finished on the same day."

She seemed appropriately proud of me.

I will now tell you what I learned:

  • I have low cholesterol, except for the good kind.
  • I do not appear to have diabetes.
  • My thyroid seems to be functioning well.
  • I'm probably not, at this time, dying of cancer. I explained several symptoms which could possibly indicate imminent death. The expert, however, felt certain that these did not if fact warrant any diagnosis beyond anxiety, which we're monitoring with a wait-and-see approach.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Annals of Teaching: The Crash

Summer Vacation, #teacherlife, school's out

Well, it's the first Monday of Summer Break. I'm eating a Lumberjack Muffin, which is part of my new 21-day meal prep challenge. It's not really a muffin, but rather some breakfast sausage, red pepper, onion, potato, and egg baked in a muffin tin. Delicious! In a few minutes, when it's not so cold from the fridge, I'm going to slice a peach as a second course.

You'll notice that my breakfast is super healthy and free from processed foods.

Anyway, speaking of the transition to summer, my plan this year was to crash hard on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday after school got out, with the aim of curtailing the two-week adjustment-to-break funk. It's true, I did go to bed early on Friday. Saturday, though, I spent the day at a track meet. I did talk with really fun, funny, and bright track moms. That counts as relaxing, doesn't it?

Sunday, I spent several hours shopping for and prepping the meals for the 21-day meal prep challenge. I also went to a hockey game and to Costco. And to dance class.

My mom said, "Remember, you can sit and read a book." I did that later in the evening. Unfortunately, the book is not that great, and I have to finish the whole thing because I told the publisher I would review it on Literary Quicksand.

Now, despite my 10-minute meditation as part of the Anxiety Package on Headspace, I'm feeling nervous that I'm failing both my adjustment period and my summer goals list.

Unfortunately, this entire freakout is entirely in my nature.

Last year's transition to summer post. Rewind, Playback.

Two funny end-of-year anecdotes that still live in infamy.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

May Bee 31

Maybe, even though I pretty much sucked at the May Bee Challenge, May has been my most prolific month on the blog this year.

Maybe I'm having a bad year?

Probably, but maybe I should compromise, forgive, and move on. After all, this year is just getting started! Not even half over! There's plenty of time to be more excellent. Maybe the person being more excellent will be the very person who's writing this blog.

Stranger things have happened.

I read the agenda for tomorrow's end-of-year faculty meeting, and it's starting with an "extended gratitude exercise." I'm going to start right now by saying I'm grateful for the May Bee Challenge, which actually inspired me to post some half-assed anecdotes on my website.

Thanks, Lee! And Mary! And Mel!

Let's all just keep writing.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

May Bee 30

Maybe the end of the school year is like falling off a horse. This metaphor came to me as my friend Erin described being hurtled over the head of her horse a couple of years ago. She'd been going at a full run on a horse called Sparkle, a prospect I can now attest would be terrifying. I know it would be terrifying because I trotted on some horses this weekend with Erin as my supervisor.

Trotting is fast enough.

Anyway, when Erin fell off the horse, sailing over its head in death-defying fashion, Sparkle had suddenly stopped short.

When school ends, you're similarly going at full speed. Writing report card comments, grading, cleaning your room, cobbling together thank you notes, basically holding on for dear life. Then school stops, and your body goes hurtling forward with nothing to check it. You land in a heap, possibly broken and bleeding.

That hurtle is coming. I'm trying to put some foam pads in place. Soft landing. You know.

Friday, May 26, 2017

May Bee 26

Maybe I'm back in the saddle for the last few days of the month. Last night, we had Humanities Family Night, so that's over.

Basically, 300+ people packed into a small space to view projects about various global issues. There was also a short presentation in the theater with an adorable script that students read to explain the process by which they'd created these things. There were folders with research materials and creative writing. They made art projects.

We made a slideshow with music.

And now that that's over, I'm really on a downward slide. I've got some grading and some report card comments, but whatever. I no longer have an event for 300+ people. I will not discover moments before the event that my pants have a weird stain on them. 

We can do this.

Friday, May 19, 2017

May Bee 19

Maybe Shef and I are fighting over a book. The book is called Running with the Buffaloes. It's by Chrs Lear, and it chronicles the 1998 Colorado University cross country season.

The book is technically Shef's, as it was given to him as a gift by his godmother. But, I want to read it, too.

Sometimes I just read it to him, but last night, I had to go to bed earlier. I took the book from his room and read it until the words got all swimmy on the page in front of me. To be helpful to Shef, I put it on Dan's nightstand by the door, so he could find it.

Sure enough, it was gone in the morning.

Maybe we're good sharers. Just two runners liking the same book.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

May Bee 17

Maybe my dog has an extraordinarily delicate constitution, or maybe he's just really dumb.

Or both.

It's true: we're once again in the throes of a bout of explosive diarrhea. And, I just can't even.

Did he eat rabbit poop? Some kind of poisonous plant? A bone from the compost bin? I don't know.

What I do know is that the dog is just over two years old and has had maybe 15 rounds of the worst, most disgusting gastrointestinal problems.

We've narrowly avoided surgery twice because of non-food items ingested. I've spent hours scrubbing excrement.

I'm starting to question my efficacy as a dog owner. Maybe it's just not worth it.

Monday, May 15, 2017

May Bee 15

Maybe something is better than nothing. That's been my rallying cry. It started last week, and I'm continuing it on. I actually don't think this is a Maybe. It's a For Sure, and the truism applies to most everything:

  • A little work is better than no work.
  • A little exercise is better than total slovenliness.
  • A little reading is better than no reading.
  • A few May Bee blog challenge posts are better than zero May Bee blog challenge posts.
And so on. 

I've been marching forward, doing something, rather than nothing. I wrote my end-of-year reflection for instance, but I did that whole thing - not just a little bit of it. I sent out a newsletter to sixth-grade parents. Again, I really did the whole thing there. 

I guess what I'm saying is, you can do the other, non-job and time-sensitive things a little bit while you really focus on your have-tos.

This week, I'm going to do some grading, some exercising, some healthy eating, some goal-setting and intentionality. I'm going to start right now.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

May Bee 9

Maybe I can make it through the year. Maybe not. It's touch and go, but as far as I can figure it, I have little choice but to try.

What's happened is not that I dislike my work. Far from it! It's just that I've made the critical error of improper pacing. A school year is rather like a marathon. If you shoot off the starting line at too quick a clip, either because you're excited or because circumstances require you to play the rabbit, you're in for a hell of a last 10k.

I knew it would be this way (Dan says it's like this every year), but I decided to start the race; and now it's my duty to finish it.

I've adopted a one-word mantra to get me through the week, and it's this: "Maintain." Just do everything the same way I was doing it before.

I've got this.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

May Bee 6

Maybe I should sue.

I ordered some replacement probiotics, and the bottle was broken when it arrived, an oblong shape protruding from its shoulder. When I tried to open it up, I accidentally cut my ring finger on the broken part. It's a weird, flappy cut right next to the nail. It bled a lot, and now I have to keep replacing the band-aid there, as it comes loose when I wash my hands, which I do quite frequently.

Annoying! I feel I should be compensated for my injury and inconvenience. Maybe a free bottle of probiotics? The things aren't cheap, and now I have to store the whole load of them in a plastic bag, rather than taking advantage of the special storage system with the dark colored glass/plastic that they bragged about on the label.

Maybe I'll email the company and ask. Or, maybe it's not really worth it.

Friday, May 5, 2017

May Bee 5

Maybe I should adjust my new rule about school night commitments just for the awesomest things. Remember how I finally decided after 18 years in the teaching profession that I would no longer accept weeknight invitations during the months of Septemeber, October, January, February, or May? That's a really smart and self-preserving policy, based on my work experience.

However, if I had already enacted the policy this year, I would have missed something really cool.

Last night was May 4th, and I went to a storytelling event called "Listen to Your Mother." My friend Emily had attended several times, and she said I'd love it. What happens is people from the community audition, and then they tell their stories related to mothering in front of an audience.  Some of the stories were hilarious, and some were pretty sad. Some people talked about being moms, and other people talked about their own moms and mom figures.

The whole thing was really warm and community-building, and afterwards at the wine bar across the street, everyone was talking and making friends. I struck up several conversations in the long bathroom lines. "We should all audition for this next year," my friends and I decided.

And I kind of thought, well, maybe I'll start my own storytelling circle. Today's stories are going to be about teaching. Come on! Today's stories are about sports! Today it's about fear! You get the idea. I think I could find enough people to fill a room. Stories bring people together. Maybe we should write them and tell them.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

May Bee 3

Maybe I'm not done with running.

I haven't been running for the same reason I haven't done much of anything. It's because I'm working on the book project. But, sometimes, it's nice to be in a little bit better shape; so I've recently added running back to the to-do list.

I'm keeping the goals really reasonable. Basically, I just make myself do one weeknight workout and then two weekend workouts. That brings the total to three, which seems like a big accomplishment.

I'm feeling good about it. Feeling a little stronger. I'm not going to sign up for any races or anything like that. Gonna keep my eyes on the book prize and run a little bit sometimes for health reasons. Maybe throw in some squats and a couple of plank poses. Basics.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

May Bee 2

Maybe I won't give up on the blog.

I've been tempted. And, I've thought to myself, "It's been a good 13 years." Which is true. But, still, giving up on the blog is probably not the right thing to do. If I gave up on the blog, where would I store memories like the one that happened last week?

Luckily, for now, since I haven't given up on the blog, I can store it right here:

The story is that my car had to get fixed. It was going to be wicked expensive, but then I discovered I'd purchased a warranty. All it took to activate the warranty was six or seven calls from my attorney husband to the warranty company. The last call was a little heated, but he got the job done.

In the end, the warranty company paid $2000 for the water pump repair, which is apparently part of the powertrain.  I only had to pay $324 for some wiring issue, which was, sadly, not part of said powertrain.

Anyway, in all the hullaballoo, I got a loaner vehicle, a totally serviceable Ford Fusion, and I drove it for two days. Mac thought it was the fanciest car in the whole world. "Whoa," he said, on sliding into the back seat of the four-door, "this is a NICE car."

Shef and I exchanged glances and said things like, "Well, it's a Ford Fusion."

But Mac was undeterred. "No, I LOVE this car," he said, stroking the faux leather seats. "This is a sports car," he told us.

"It's a sedan," I agreed. No use fighting with him. I whacked at Shef when he opened his mouth to tell him that a Ford Fusion sedan was emphatically not a sports car. "Do you like riding in a sedan rather than a minivan or SUV?" I asked.

Turns out the answer is yes. Maybe we'll get a sedan next. Seems to make the kid happy, even if it doesn't totally fit the hockey equipment.

So, maybe the blog isn't dead.

Have you heard of the May Bee Challenge? It's on.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Writerly Wednesday: Becoming Obssesed with Your Project

Well, I've become completely obsessed with the book project. This week, I forced myself to take a little time off to let the thing rest. My fingers have started feeling itchy from the lack of drafting.

I'm filling my time by writing a new book review (Rich and Pretty by Rumaan Alam), checking in here, and of course, doing my full-time paying job with the middle schoolers. I also called to schedule some overdue appointments and got my car serviced.

"When's the book getting published?" one class asked me today.

"Maybe never," I said, "but creative projects aren't always about the end result. "They're about the process of making the thing."

"You could always make your own book on the internet," one kid said. I appreciated that. I'll consider it when the time comes.

Anyway, I've noticed some side effects of becoming enveloped in a writing project. A big one is that I cannot just read a novel. Instead, I'm constantly thinking about the author's structure. Like, "What is the writer doing here? This is too much 'telling,' and yet, I'm still engaged. How did she make that happen? How is she working the transitions work between narrators? This plot has no action, and yet I can't stop reading. Why? Oh look, another commercial fiction story wrapped up in a bow at the ending! Where's the action on the first page of this one? Why am I bored right here?" And on and on. I guess this is reading like a writer? It's interesting, but it's also gotten a little out of hand.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Things I'm Learning

As you know, I'm a life-long learner. Trying to write a book has been one big learning experience.

I've always wanted to write a book, and I think I thought deep down that because I've always had the desire and because I read quite a few books, I'd just know how to write one.

For better or worse, that hasn't been the case. I did not just intrinsically know how to write a book. I've had to study and research and take classes. I've made spreadsheets and storyboards and written lots and lots of drafts. This is making it seem like I'm done. I'm not done, but I've made progress.

I've also had feedback.

Sometimes feedback is tricky to digest, but I've gotten to the point where I look forward to it. Something I've learned recently via feedback is that I tend to be good at writing dialogue and less effective at writing setting.

I agree that this is true, and so right now I'm going to practice writing setting details about the inside of a school. It's an exercise that I just made up. Here's what a high school might look or smell or sound like:
  • White-washed cinder block with bits of gray showing through in the places where the backs of metal chairs have rubbed the walls at the conclusion of each class period, the back row kids standing up so fast that their chairs slide out behind them.
  • The fourth-period class that enters the room with a chill attached to their thick cotton sweatshirts, fresh from a non-sanctioned off-campus lunch.
  • The earthy, sticky smell of a kid who thought he could go one more morning without a shower, his greasy, cheekbone-length hair pushed back from his hairline and then falling down in thick ribbons toward scattered stubble on his jaw.
  • One hundred tattered copies of The Things They Carried stacked precariously on a side shelf, some spines facing out, others in,  the corners of covers and pages of the ones on top turned up like bumpers.
  • A blue plastic trash emblazoned with the recycling icon, white papers variously crumpled, poking out from the top. A giant wad of wet pink gum spat in the middle of a recently graded test. The test was a B.
  • A teacher unlocks her classroom door in the dark morning, the room stale smell - a mix of Cheetoh's and Old Spice - wafts up from the carpet. She flicks on the fluorescent lights and checks to make sure the plastic, industrial clock above her desk matches her watch.
  • In the middle of reading Chapter 12 aloud to the class, the strobe light begins to pulse, followed quickly by a jarring blare, a high-pitched tone that made her molars ache. The students heads popped up, and she said calmly, "Fire drill. We're going out door 17. To your left." She watched each of the students file out, grabbed her laminated attendance list from the hook by the door, flipped off the lights, and entered the hallway. She stood, her back flattened against the door, as the students filed past, their faces reflecting a emotions ranging from glee to anxiety. "Is this real?" one asked her. She shook her head. In truth, she didn't know, but it probably wasn't. Finally, she joined the teachers who comprised the end of the throng. "Damn it," said one, "I was giving a test."