Monday, December 31, 2012

Clean Slate

We spent today doing chores and running errands, but I couldn't be happier with the end results:

Clean house
Clean fridge
Clean car
Clean clothes

What a terrific way to ring in the new year!

Sunday, December 30, 2012


The other day I was cooking with Heidi's mom, Louise, in her kitchen, and I asked her if she had any Italian seasoning. She proudly pulled out her built-in spice rack. "They are alphabetized," she told me, and in no time handed me a jar of McCormick's.

Let me say first, that I do not have Italian seasoning in my own spice cupboard, but I often buy it on vacation for cooking in rental houses, because it nicely takes the place of several herbs in many dishes. It is an excellent all-round go-to herb mix, which is why I requested it in an unfamiliar kitchen.

When Louise handed me the bottle, my eyes widened. The label design transported me back at least 30 years, and when I flipped it over the price stamped on the bottom was 33¢. I held it silently in my hand for a few moments. "How long have you had this?" I asked her.

She could not say, and seeing as there was less than a pinch left in the bottom, I suggested an alternative, but I made a request. "Can I have this container?" and when she looked at me funny, I blurted, "It's vintage!"

We laughed, but the truth is, I know how that happens. They have lived in that house for almost 35 years, and the longer you live, the older your stuff gets.

To be honest? I like my old things a lot. Why just this evening, when we finally made it home after nine days away, 2 eight hour drives, and 2 seven-hundred mile flights, after lugging in all our stuff, I opened a bottle of wine with my favorite cork screw.

That efficient little gadget has been with me since the restaurant I waited tables for when I was in college forced me to buy it. The beach-front seafood establishment docked my first paycheck $2.50 so that I would always be properly equipped in the event that any customer might order some wine.

I can't say that I used it much that summer, but it sure has come in handy over the last thirty years.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Our Best with Thee Do Go

Sad news today when we heard that Heidi's aunt died this morning. She was 78 and in hospice, so it was not unexpected, but it is a loss to the family, Heidi's dad especially. This evening as we sat around their kitchen table in Buffalo, I looked up her memorial notice on the funeral home website. It was nice enough, but as one who hardly knew her, I was struck that there was no mention of the life she led other than listing those she left behind.

"Tell me about Marilyn," I said. "What was the best thing about her?"

"She loved to laugh," Heidi started, and they spent the next little while recalling her quirks and foibles as well as her merits. As I said, I didn't know her, but it seemed like a good way to be remembered.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Grammar Saves Lives

A few days ago, my brother, Bill, googled us all. One of my hits is always the Rate Your Teachers website. "I'm a little disturbed your class isn't considered harder," Bill joked, "especially considering my sons both took it." We also laughed at the grammar and spelling mistakes of those students who praised me as an excellent teacher.

It's true that grammar for grammar's sake is not my focus, but I do love those cases where conventions make a big difference, and they are the texts I use as my lessons. Fortunately, I had an example at hand.

Consider the difference between the following sentences:

Let's eat Grandma.

Let's eat, Grandma.

Since Grandma was sitting right there, we got a good laugh out of that one. Today, Annabelle and Richard supplied a good exercise in pronoun reference. They were playing with their kitten when Annabelle raised her voice to complain. "Mom! Richard stuck his butt in my face!"

We were shocked. It seemed very out of character. How did he do that? we asked.

"Not Richard's butt," Annabelle told us, "the kitten's, and it was really stinky!"

Lesson learned.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Chef Cuckoo

One of my stocking stuffers this year was a simple little game in a small tin can. Consisting of 12 challenge cards and 48 ingredient cards the object is to choose three of the six ingredients in your hand to create a dish that fits the challenge. One player is the judge and evaluates each offering without knowing which player's it is.

With challenges such as best and worst pizza, sandwich, pasta, salad, soup, and omelet, all of us, including my five year old niece and seven year old nephew were able to play the game. The trick is knowing not only your ingredients, but also the judge' s tastes. It's also tough sometimes to maintain anonymity-- it's really tempting to explain how you might prepare a peanut butter, onion, and avocado sandwich so it's not quite as gross as it sounds.

By last night, my brother had played enough and with such success that in addition to the title of Iron Chef Cuckoo, he declared himself permanent judge and did away with the standard task cards. Instead we concocted the perfect amuse bouche, martini, and cookie.

The ridiculous combinations were hilarious and we all laughed a lot, but the sting of losing was still a little hard to shake sometimes. "I can't believe Annabelle didn't pick my pasta yesterday," Richard said this morning. "I put all her favorite things in it!"

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Body Art

I don't know what it is about me, but I kind of abhor a tattoo. Maybe it's because when I was a child, tattoos were mostly faded blue hearts and anchors on the sagging biceps of men in graying t-shirts sucking on unfiltered cigarettes at the church carnival.

Over the years of course, tats have become quite main stream, and yet, I remain a little repulsed. To be honest, though, I was never a kid who liked to write on myself, not even to remember or to be zapped, and so the thought of a permanent mark on my skin is out of the question.

Imagine my surprise then, when my mother produced a package of glitter tattoos for the family at Christmas. Oh, the peer pressure was intense, and Treat proved to be a gifted artist in that particular medium, but even the sparkle of peace signs, dragon flies, suns and stars adorning the limbs of those I love could not convince me to be so marked.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

God Bless Us, Every One

Traveling on Christmas Day is always an interesting experience. Many people are wearing new clothes with fresh creases straight from the gift box, like the gent in the orange jeans or the kid in the spotless Air Jordans. Some are dressed especially for this day with holiday sweaters and antlers and Santa caps and even one guy in red and green footie pajamas. "Do you think he had shoes to wear outside?" I asked Heidi. "It is raining."

Most travelers seem happy--perhaps  looking forward to reunions with family or vacations in the islands or on the slopes-- and so do most of the folks working, hopefully for holiday pay. Sometimes it seems odd to spend Christmas, a day usually so focused on family, with strangers, but other times it seems like that might be just the point.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Twelve Drummers Drumming

The other day in the car we heard someone reading O. Henry's The Gift of the Magi on the radio. Even though the prose is very purple and the outcome well-known, I listened with a sort of morbid fascination all the way up to the part where Jim leans back on the couch, puts his hands behind his head, and says, "Dell, let's put our Christmas presents away and keep 'em a while. They're too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs."

In our family, we have our own Christmas legend with an ironic twist. It involves my grandfather, a shotgun, and a tuxedo. One year the only gift my grandfather wanted was a shotgun. His older brother, Herb, wanted a tuxedo to wear to the cotillion he was attending with his girl, Elsie.

Both boys got their wishes, and Herb hung his tux on the door to keep it wrinkle free until the party. My great-grandfather sat down with his younger son and told him that the shotgun was not toy. It was never to be loaded or aimed in the house, and if that rule should ever be broken, my grandfather would lose it forever.

What boy could resist lifting such a weapon to his shoulder and squinting down the barrel in firing position? Not my grandfather. When his father was out of the room, he did just that, and unaware that it was loaded, he was stunned when he pulled the trigger and unloaded two shells of shot right into Herb's tuxedo, cutting the pants off at the knees.

Yet another foolish child who most unwisely sacrificed the greatest treasures of the house.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Eleven Pipers Piping

When we were very young my father's office was in Philadelphia and one evening in December was always set aside for us to drive into the city from our suburban south Jersey home to meet him after work and tour the department store windows on Market Street. Gimbels, Wannamakers, Strawbridge and Clothier, and Lits filled their windows with amazing holiday scenes populated by animated dolls who skated and caroled and danced and wrote letters to Santa and opened their tiny packages under their miniature trees.

Afterward, we would go into Lits and ride the escalator upstairs to the Christmas section where they had an entire colonial village with even more spectacle and animation, and the red velvet ropes lining the way led right to the main event, a visit with Santa. A shy child, I never really liked having to talk to such an intimidating soul, but an obedient child as well, I always did it anyway. I felt better with my brother and sister by my side-- I don't think they really liked it either and so feeling protective of them gave me something to focus on other than my own discomfort.

One year, just beyond Santa, they had a shopping area for kids only. The idea was that we could buy gifts to surprise our parents. The place was stocked with inexpensive little things that any generic mom or dad might like. To my memory, this was my first independent shopping experience and I remember struggling with wanting to get things that I liked rather than things I thought my dad might like. I ended up buying him a cool yellow mini-flashlight that I really, really liked.

I don't remember what I bought my mom, but I do know what my little sister chose. It was an upright black and white vinyl fish stuffed with sawdust. About 8 inches tall, it had big red lips and was a dead ringer for Charlie Tuna without the beret and glasses. The minute she saw it, my sister was sure that our mom would love it, and nothing my brother or I could say would convince her otherwise. At four, she already had a shopping mind of her own.

Maybe she was right. That fish sat on my mom's dresser, right next to the Infant of Prague, for years. I wonder what those two talked about, anyway.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Ten Lords a-Leaping

Christmas is coming; the goose is getting fat.

Once when I asked my nephew if he wanted some cool new t-shirts and nice soft pants for Christmas, he shook his head firmly. "No thanks," he said, "We do fine." He was only six at the time, but I knew just what he meant. There are two kinds of people in the world-- those who like getting clothes as gifts and the rest of us. This year, my youngest nephew, Richard, is in the no thank you club, too, although his sister joins Heidi and most of the other adults in the whoopee! I got clothes faction.

Please to put a penny in the old man's hat.

Along with the inevitable clothes, books and music have always been popular gifts in our family. Although it is nearly impossible to disguise those packages, ( I still love holding them up and loudly proclaiming the contents, "Book!" or "CD!" or years ago, "Record!" To which the proper reply is always, "Maybe... but you don't know which one!") they are always among my favorites.

If you haven't got a penny, a ha'penny will do.

The first record I ever got for Christmas was By the Time I Get to Phoenix by Glen Campbell, when I was six. Although I liked the title track, it was his version of Homeward Bound that captured my imagination; I played the grooves off of that thing and learned the word "mediocrity" to boot.

If you haven't got a ha'penny, then God bless you!

And it was at Christmas that I learned from one of my high school roommates that one should always pay a penny for any gift that cuts, because giving or receiving something sharp may sever your friendship. It might be a silly superstition, but who wants to take such a chance? A penny seems a small price to pay to keep those you love close.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Nine Ladies Dancing

Of my fifty Christmases so far, not many of them have been white. Oh sure, the numbers have gone up since I've been celebrating the season in Buffalo, but even that doesn't make snow a sure thing. In fact, my most recent white Christmas was in Atlanta. A couple of years ago we were all there for that once in a hundred year event. Of course, Heidi and I almost didn't make it, but when we did it was merry indeed. The next day I even went out to play in the snow in my pajamas with Richard and Annabelle.

This year is looking pretty good, too, if tonight's weather is any indication. We've been driving through exquisite squalls of swirling fat flakes for the last three hours. It slows us down, but the temperature has cooperated by holding above thirty-two so the roads are merely wet, and the Christmas lights look especially beautiful in the storm.

O, we'll get there, and when we do there will be hugs and Friday fish fry, but until then the journey is just fine.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Eight Maids a-Milking

How can we talk about Christmas and not talk about food? Our traditional meal is roast beef, served with mashed potatoes and Yorkshire pudding, but over time we've mixed up the other sides with what I'd say were mixed results, although I don't miss the peas at all. One year we all agreed to prepare a single course. After the crab stuffed avocados, we were stuffed, too. Fortunately our meal is just as delicious when served as leftovers.

Growing up we had our big meal on Christmas Eve, but the family switched over when Heidi and I started going to her parents that night. It was an emotional change, but I think my people made out pretty well. I was always really jealous of their tales of Judy's Italian seafood feast.

The past few years we have had the main event on Boxing Day, the 26th. After several happy experiences with Chinese take out, we reserve Christmas as a no cooking day-- one of the very few on my annual calendar.

And I'm not a huge dessert fan, so another thing about this holiday that I particularly love is the tradition of putting a variety of small sweets on the table after your meal. In our family we always have clementines, good chocolates, and a mix of homemade cookies, and I always feel like I can have a perfect bite of some delicious something and be satisfied without being over-full.

Of course the opposite is true about wine. In that category, I'm of the philosophy to keep it coming until the last person switches to water or toddles off to bed.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Seven Swans a-Swimmin'

During the years my family lived in Saudi Arabia, the days following Christmas were often spent on the beach. Despite the desert climate it was far from hot at that time of year, but the weather was mild enough that we could drive our Chevy Impala off the road and across crunchy sand flats to a stretch of coastline so deserted we might call it all our own for the afternoon.

The first order of business was to collect driftwood to fuel a bonfire, and then we would roll up our jeans and wade into the shallow water of the Arabian Gulf. The bottom was smooth sand so fine that you could feel the shellfish that had dug in there with your toes, making it possible to fill a bucket with perfect little clams in no time. A few minutes on the fire and a dip in melted butter bestowed a feast festooned with salt and smoke and fine enough for any holiday celebration.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Six Geese a-Layin'

When I was a senior in college I lived in a brand-new three-bedroom campus apartment with five other women. Now I think of them as girls, but that's what we called ourselves then. When December rolled around that year, we were all as busy as ever with exams, but we were all also aware that the end of our college time was near.

Life in that apartment was not always copacetic, but the six of us agreed to get together for a holiday meal the last Saturday before we left for break. To this day, I have no idea where the goose came from, although I do remember that, to a girl, we thought it was an excellent menu idea. I was in a Dickens seminar at the time, and the thought of roast goose for Christmas stirred my heart.

Unfortunately (or fortunately), I had the GREs that day, and so the task of cooking our ever-so-traditional entree fell upon a roommate. In those days before the internet, trapped in a tiny rural town as we were, her research was impressive. She found a recipe that looked very promising despite all of the footnoted warnings.

As it turns out, a goose is quite a fatty bird, which makes a lot of sense. Fat floats and it keeps one warm in harsh northern winters such as ours was. Too bad fat also burns. As I walked into the courtyard on my way home from my exam, I saw all of our neighbors shivering in the cold.

Who knew a teeny little kitchen fire might upset so many?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Five Golden Rings

Ba dump bump bumb...

In addition to Christmas music, I am also a fan of Christmas TV. As a child, I loved Rudolph, the Grinch, and Charlie Brown, and watching them was an annual treat. I have to confess that I could never really get into Frosty. That one came out when I was six, and has always seemed a little come lately to me.

Years later, with the advent of the VCR, the novelty of seeing those shows only once a year was replaced with the novelty of being able to see them whenever we wanted. We still only watched them around Christmas, though. We also had to sacrifice quality for convenience. Who can forget the time we popped that homemade VHS in and settled back with my 3-year-old nephew to enjoy some holiday specials. "Oh my, Dod!" he exclaimed, hands covering his mouth in horror. "The no is pink!" And it was, too.

Even today, watching recordings of my old favorites (and yes, I have sprung for professional quality DVDs), I kind of miss the commercials from when I was a kid. Remember Santa sledding down the hill on an electric razor to the tune of Jingle Bells? I do. Even more unforgettable was the slogan: Merry Christmas from Noelco. And of course, A Charlie Brown Christmas was always brought to you by Dolly Madison Cakes and Pies.

This year I tuned into the network broadcast of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer just the other night. With the older nephews grown, and the younger niece and nephew in Atlanta, it's been a few years since I've seen it. I had it on in the kitchen as I cooked, and despite knowing all the songs and dialog by heart, I just wasn't enjoying it. The pressure for Herbie and Rudolph to conform was really making me uncomfortable, even though I knew how it ended.

At one point Heidi came in. "Why are you watching that?" she asked.

"I like it," I said. "But I don't like it right now. I just don't understand why--"

"Why Santa is such an asshole?" she asked.

"Yeah," I said. "I think that's it."

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Four Calling Birds

Let it never be said that I do not like Christmas music. Six solid weeks of seasonal songs cannot harden my heart toward the holiday hits. In fact, I possess quite an extensive collection of carols myself, and I'm not afraid to use it.

Today I amused myself by sorting my holiday playlist by title. It turns out my number one Christmas song (at least in respect to versions owned) is Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. I have 14 different recordings of that particular tune. Is it any surprise then, that I judge all new holiday albums by that song? Rod Stewart? Sorry. She and Him? Yes.

Of course, this morning I promptly played all 14 in alphabetical order by artist and made Heidi choose her favorite. Andy Williams was up first, and he was her strong preference from the start. Linda Ronstadt and Diana Krall were contenders, but for Heidi, Andy hung on to the last, even beating out her childhood favorites, Steve and Edie.

My favorite though was Judy Garland, no contest. Her version was also the shortest, and I'm with her-- there is absolutely no need to draw that song out. Once you hit ...if the fates allow, you have sung it all. Coincidentally, my number two was also the second shortest; John Denver and the Muppets do a terrific rendition of that old chestnut.

Surprisingly? My number one Christmas artists weren't in the running at all. When we were growing up, our go to Christmas album was Christmas with Conniff, which for me will always be the quintessential sound of the season. Somehow, Have Yourself did not make it onto the album.

It must have been bumped for Christmas Bride... as it should have been.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Three French Hens

Growing up there were three of us kids in our family-- me, my brother, and my sister. Over the years, we received many kind gifts from friends and family at the holidays. I'm sure there were lots of other nice things, too, but in my memory, it seems like we always got Christmas ornaments.

I didn't mind the ornaments, though; it was kind of neat to hang them on our beloved tree, and then always nice to remember the person who gave them to us year by year. What I did mind was that each of us always got the same thing-- I got an angel, my brother got a Santa, and my little sister got a miscellaneous holiday something, either a star, or a drum, or a jack-in-the-box, or a reindeer, or a teddy bear.

For some reason all those angels bothered me. In my mind they were far less fun and exciting than Santa and all his cute accessories. Yet still they came-- ceramic, yarn, tin, and glass-- a host of angels adorned our tree, most of them mine.

Years later,  after all our family Christmas decorations were lost in a generous gesture by my father and we were adults, I began to assemble my own collection of ornaments. Childhood bruises may be invisible, but they last-- today the only angel on my tree is at the top.

When I think about it, I wonder, though. What's my problem? Seriously, who could possibly object to angels?

These days when I hang the ornaments on my own Christmas tree, each one of them sparks in me appreciation of the things I love. Among them there is a skillet, a fountain pen, a school house, garlic, snowshoes, several dogs, a basketball, a Navajo polar bear kachina, and a suit case labeled with destinations all over the world. Are these not all angels in some form? Do they not represent a bit of the divinity that inhabits our every day lives?

I'm going to go with yes.

P.S. I also have a ton of Santas. I LOVE the Santas. I guess sibling rivalry may just be formative after all. Who knew?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Two Turtle Doves

In our family we open our presents on Christmas day. When we were growing up, the rule was always that we had to wait for Mom and Dad to get up before going downstairs to the tree. I can still remember craning my whole body as far as it would go without leaving the landing to catch a peek at what lay below.

One year we all woke up around 4 am and somehow convinced my parents to let us get started. By 5 it was all over, and as I sat in front of the Light Bright, I felt as hollow as the holes I was punching in the black paper with those bright plastic pegs. For the first time in my life, I was disappointed by Christmas.

I also realized that for me, Christmas is all about the anticipation. That's one reason why it can be so galling these days to try to wedge the holidays into an already over-crowded schedule. It seems like the season comes and goes too quickly; there's no cha

Heidi's family opens their gifts at midnight on Christmas Eve. The only way that works for me is being able to look forward to more celebration when we get to my family later in the day. Of course, it's a long way from Buffalo to Virginia, and farther still to Atlanta-- we're lucky to make it there by mid-afternoon, if the weather cooperates.

Several years ago we spent Christmas in a snow storm at the airport in Buffalo, watching them plow the runways and de-ice the planes. We finally caught one of the first and last flights of the day, and made it home a little before midnight. Everyone was here waiting for us; there was a fire in the fireplace and Chinese takeout to eat, and Christmas stretched long into the next morning.

That was a good one.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Partridge in a Pear Tree

As hectic as the holidays can be with the merry chores of shopping and baking and decorating, I always kind of like it all, but I especially enjoy wrapping presents. We usually clear the dining room for a day or two to set up the paper bin and ribbon boxes, and then as long as there’s plenty of tape and sharp scissors, I can wrap for hours. Of course a little Ray Conniff never hurts.

It was my grandmother who taught me the art of gift wrapping when I was nine. She came up to our house in New Jersey from her home in Maryland a week or so before Christmas to spend some time with our family before heading back home for the holiday. One afternoon after school I sat at the kitchen table eating cookies and watching her cut and fold and tape her way through a stack of boxes.

“That looks pretty, Grandma,” I said. “Who is it for?”

“This one is for Billy Shep,” she told me.

“What about that one?” I asked a few minutes later.

“This one is for your mother, and the next one’s for your daddy,” she answered.

“You’re really good at that,” I told her.

Would you like to learn how to do this?” she asked. I nodded and she reached for a small package in the pile.

“This one is for your sister. It’s a little box because she’s a little girl. Let me show you what to do.”

She pulled a length of bright paper from a roll beside her and set the box on it. Then she took the shiny silver shears and rather than snipping as we had been taught in school, she made a tiny cut and then pushed them forward. It sounded like a zipper as the paper separated neatly from the roll. She sliced off another section from the end of the sheet. “We can use that for something else later,” she told me as she set it aside. “Come on over here and I’ll show you how to do this.”

I stood next to her. “First let’s get our tape ready,” she said and handed me the green plaid dispenser. “Cut off four pieces about this long.” The red polished nails of her thumb and forefinger were about an inch and a half apart. As I tore the tape, she placed each piece carefully on the edge of the table.

“Next pull these two ends together so they meet in the middle of the box.” I did as I was told, and she handed me a piece of tape. “See how nice that’s going to look?” she said once it was secure. “The next part is tricky, though, so I’ll show you one side and then you can do the other.”

I know now that there are two ways to wrap the end of a package. Most people push the sides in and crease them to form a top and a bottom flap which they fold over and tape together at the end of the parcel. My grandmother’s method was different, and to this day I find it more elegant. With the box on its back, she pushed the paper that hung over the end straight down and then folded the sides over and pulled up from the underneath to secure the single flap neatly to the bottom.

When my end was done, too, she flipped the present over, pulled a bow from a bag and stuck it down with a ring of tape made from the final piece at edge of the table. “That’s very nice,” she declared and hugged me. “I bet you wrap a lot more gifts in your life,” she said, “but I’m glad I was here for the first one.”

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Most Wonderful Time of the Years

I really like Billy Collin's poem On Turning Ten. Funny and poignant, it also lampoons the angst so many of us feel about growing older.

For such a short poem, it has a lot of great lines, but one that struck me only after re-reading several times is I can lie on my bed and remember every digit. Once when I couldn't sleep I did lay on my bed and try to recollect one thing from each year of my life. I think I fell asleep in my twenties.

With the holidays coming and Christmas music piped in pretty much everywhere I go, my thoughts naturally turn to scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago (and those not so long ago, too).

So, as kind of a mash up of Collin's poem, that carol of counting, and Dickens' famous tale, I present to you, On Turning Fifty: Twelve Days of Christmas Past.

Tune in tomorrow for day one.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Just as I Expected

Today I gave my students this writing prompt:  

Write about something that didn't go the way you expected.

It was less than a minute before I heard my least favorite question as a teacher of writing. "What if this never happened to you?"

"Really?" I asked the culprit. "Everything in your life has always gone as you thought it would? Every. Single. Thing?"

He nodded optimistically, hopeful that this response might get him off the hook for the assignment.

"Well," I said, "What did you think would happen when you asked that question just now?"

His expression changed. Now he was looking a little worried. He shrugged.

I raised my eyebrows. "Is this conversation what you expected?"

"Not really," he said.

I clapped and gave him a cheery smile. "Well there you go-- instant writing topic!"

Believe it or not, he wrote about something completely different, and it was pretty darn good.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Stressed is Desserts Spelled Backwards

Last Friday, in an attempt to build morale at our school, the administration offered a nice assortment of desserts at the end of our required professional development meeting. It was a kind gesture made in good faith, but I'm not sure if it made a difference to very many. Platitudes don't really pacify us; they just seem patronizing.

Looking at the table loaded with sweets, one of my colleagues shrugged. "Just another thing to put on my plate," she said.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Rust Never Sleeps

We walked past a colleague's home tonight as we strolled the neighborhood admiring all the holiday lights. Rumor has it he's retiring in February... not the usual date for a teacher, right?

"Six years ago we were wishing for him to go out," Heidi remarked, "but now? It seems a little sad."

I nodded. She had a good point. The guy was famous for his cantankerous attitude. He had a reputation for unceremoniously blasting anyone-- coworker, administrator, parent, student-- anywhere, if he believed they were in the wrong. His irascible voice has boomed through the hallways of our school for over 18 years, and teaching was his second career! It seemed like anyone who had ever a run in with him just wished he would retire already.

I shrugged. "He's really toned it down a lot recently," I pointed out.

As we walked on in our silence, I considered his. "I guess that's what happens when you're really done," I said. "You stop fighting. Being burnt out is not being upset or angry at the direction things are going. Burnt out? That's when you don't care."

Saturday, December 8, 2012

'Tis the Season

The tree is up and the branches are falling; I got my Christmas mug and pajamas down from the attic, and the wreathe is on the door.


Friday, December 7, 2012


Standardization v. Innovation?


Thursday, December 6, 2012

I'm Number One!

And speaking of ghosts...

Do you know what khaghouls are?

Google it, baby!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


"What are you doing here so late?" a colleague poked her head in the door and asked.

I looked at the clock. It was 5:15. "I'm always here at this time," I told her.

We laughed a little ruefully, and she shrugged. Although we have worked together for 15 years or more very, closely at times, her job is Latino community outreach, and so her hours are not the same as mine-- early morning conferences, evening parenting classes, truth be told, we're actually a tag team of sorts.

"I don't want to go back to my office," she confided.

I nodded, sure of where this conversation was going. It seems like everyone in our building feels overworked. Nobody wants to go back to their desk.

"The last time I was there so late I saw a ghost," she finished.

Now she had my attention.

"What happened?" I asked.

"It was after a meeting, around 9 o'clock," she said. "I went to the office and it was dark."

Her space is in the main office complex, and it's usually closed down after 4 pm.

"I didn't bother to turn on the lights," she continued. "I just unlocked my door and put my papers down on my desk, but when I looked up I saw a ghost!"

She told me she backed out of the room and headed to the main hallway where she found a custodian who asked her what was wrong. When she told her tale, the custodian was not surprised. "I always turn on all the lights and open the doors when I clean in there," she said. "It's like someone's with me."

And then the custodian told of a time when she was working in that area and felt a light tap on her shoulder. When she turned around? Nobody was there, but the papers on the bulletin board behind her were fluttering in an invisible breeze.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Blood from a Stone

The last time I had to go to my doctor, I raced out of school at not quite the end of a contentious meeting, wove and honked my way the two miles to the hospital, played chicken with the patrons of the parking garage, pounded up seven flights of stairs rather than wait for the elevator and arrived breathlessly with one minute to spare. Then I waited for 90 minutes to be called back for my appointment. After two nurses asked me why I was there, (because the doctor asked me to schedule a follow-up appointment), I was finally shown into an examination room.

"You look exhausted," my doctor told me. "Why are you here?"

And with that, I burst into tears.

On my way back to school that day (even though the final bell had rung hours before, I still had several things to do), I vowed that such a thing would not happen to me again. I was through trying to shoehorn my health care into the tiny openings in my work day.

Today, I took sick leave to get my blood work done, and what a difference it made. I got a little extra sleep, still made it to the doctor's office early, got right in, and was out in plenty of time to

go to the post office
go to the hardware store
do the grocery shopping
get the coffee I like, which is only available in one place
go to my favorite sandwich place for lunch
get the batteries replaced in 5 watches
get my hair cut
fix the cabinet door on Heidi's bed side table
walk the dog
update my grades
finish the grading on the Early Adolescent Development course I'm teaching
pay the bills

I also promised myself I would find another doctor, but that will have to wait until next time.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Inside Out

As an average person alive in America these past few decades, I have certainly heard the song Feeling Good. Why is it then that I have never actually listened to the words before? Maybe because I'm not a huge Nina Simone fan, although I do know of her. Maybe because it's pretty bluesy and that's not my favorite type of music. I really can't say.

I heard the song tonight on my way home from school. They played it at the end of a ridiculous piece on NPR about web sites that offer virtual compliments and hugs. At nearly 6 PM, after ten and a half hours at work, knowing of such opportunities was really not helpful. There was something about the song that made me listen up, though.

It may have been the disparity between sound and message-- since when have the blues ever been uplifting? Or perhaps I actually heard the lyrics for the first time-- dragonfly in the sun, you know how I feel -- and finally realized the wisdom of the piece.

You know how I feel?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

New and Improved

"Remember when this place used to be a mall?" I asked Heidi as we entered Target this afternoon. "I kind of liked it better then."

She laughed and nodded because I ask her that question a lot when we shop there. And when I don't ask, I'm still thinking about it. I can't walk in the door to that place without remembering it used to be something else.

Today we explored the nostalgia a little more than usual. The Starbucks used to be a shoe store; there was a movie theater in the linen department and another one back by the garden shop. "Wasn't there a play place, too?" Heidi asked.

There was. I used to take my nephew Riley there all the time when he was little. He's 20 now.

In fact, it's been so long since the place was reconstructed that the store itself has actually been renovated.

"Remember when they used to have the Christmas decorations over there?" I asked Heidi. "I kind of liked it better then."

She was good enough not to roll her eyes.

Saturday, December 1, 2012


10 x hour of sleep
2 x hour putting the garden to rest for the winter
1 x movie

Repeat as necessary