Sunday, January 31, 2016

All Good

Today was one of my favorite days of the year:

We had our annual appointment with Bill and Emily to see the Oscar-nominated live action and animated shorts, 10 films of thirty minutes or less that ordinarily do not get a lot of commercial theater play. Each one was a well-constructed little treasure: funny, heart-wrenching, and thought provoking, but we were generally in agreement with the review that was headlined Live-action misery, animated joy.

Following that double feature we scored a prime parking place and made our way through the unseasonably mild evening down a cobblestone path vaulted by strings of white lights and giant illuminated snowflakes. Leftover piles of real snow lined our path down the stairs, past the skating rink, and on to dinner at one of our favorite places on the Georgetown waterfront.

It was a perfect way to end our second winter vacation.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Waste Not

"Don't throw them away!" I said to Heidi last Saturday afternoon. I was referring to the three pastry bags with leftover buttercream from the mini birthday cupcakes we had just frosted. 

"When will we use them?" she asked with mild exasperation. "Better yet, where will we put them? You know the fridge is full."

"The whole world is a refrigerator," I answered with a sweeping gesture at the blizzard outside. "And you never know when we might need cupcakes again."

She shrugged and humored me, fastening each bag securely into its own ziplock, placing them in another plastic bag and hanging it from the door handle on the deck where it stayed well below 40 degrees all week.

"What are we going to bring to Ruth's tomorrow night?" Heidi asked me yesterday. We were invited for dinner and game night. 

"How about... mini-cupcakes?" I suggested.

She nodded. "Good one!"

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Wind from my Sails

I took advantage of our sixth day off from school and cooked up a storm yesterday. Besides french toast and vegan Greek skillet pies, I made two of Josh's favorites, cream of broccoli soup and braised pork shoulder with bbq sauce. Appropriately appreciative and still trying to put on some of the pounds he lost while in the hospital, he ate huge portions of both dishes. I went to bed secure in the notion that I had significantly contributed to his recovery.

You can imagine how alarmed I was to find him at 7:30 am this morning on the couch wrapped in a blanket and looking pitiful. "I threw up all night," he told me. "I think it was the pork and the soup."

Thursday, January 28, 2016

And So It Was...

Eleven days off and a work day! I feel like a Hobbit-- never mind second breakfast, second winter break anyone?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Personal Chef

When Isabel was a puppy she had a few chronic digestive issues and a couple of bouts with worms. Back then, our vet advised us to feed her a mixture of cooked hamburger, rice, and pumpkin whenever her tummy was upset, and there were weeks at a time when that was all our puppy ate.

That was a long time ago, and ever since we put her on a raw diet all of those concerns have been history, too. And yet... this day, whenever I broil some burgers or otherwise brown ground beef? Our sweet dog trots to the kitchen door and sits prettily, certain that I could only be cooking for her.

And in a way she is right, because who could resist such faith in one's kindness and caretaking?

Not I. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

No Job Too Small

I would never be one to turn down a snow day, nor do I shun leisure time, but I do like to keep busy. There's really not a lot of sitting around when it comes to me.

That's why it took me a minute to answer my mother's facetime call this morning. I was occupied in the kitchen and I wanted to make sure my coffee was freshly refilled so that we could chat. Naturally, one of her first questions about our little extended winter break was how and when we would have to make up the time.

"Presidents Day for sure," I shrugged.

"Nope!" Heidi called from across the room. "We have ten days before we have to make up any!"

"What!?" I did a double take.

"Yep!" she said. "We got an e-mail this morning. How did you miss it?"

"I guess I was too busy making breadcrumbs," I answered.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Big Dig

There is no question that we have just had an epic snow storm, but athough our condo association contractors plowed and shoveled, it turns out that they were not very smart about where they put the snow. Parking is always at a premium here, and residents are responsible for shoveling out their own cars, so it isn't too long after that last flake has fallen that all manner of space markers begin to appear. "Just put a lawn chair in your space," one of my neighbors advised me long ago, "it'll be fine." 

But it isn't fine to drive home at the end of a long day and not be able to park, and that was what was going to happen since at least 20% of our available Parkin had been used to pile snow by both plows and residents who did not want to both shovel and walk. At this end of the complex, most of our neighbors had chosen to weather the storm elsewhere, and although we were dug out by noon yesterday, the fear of losing our spaces was real, especially with five uncleared spaces next to us. 

And so it was that our project for the day today was to shovel out a few extra spaces, including that six foot mountain of snow that was blocking them in. "The sun is shining and we have all day," I told Heidi, and although there was a crust of ice, the snow was light. 

"Think how much harder it will be as it melts and refreezes," we told each other as we scooped shovel after shovel and trudged over to the small hill by our house. After a while a couple of neighbors joined in, and in a little under 90 minutes we had our spaces cleared. 

Some extra added benefit? Peace of mind. I had an appointment to get some stitches removed this afternoon, and when we came home there was a spot for us. They are all filled right now, though, so hopefully a few other some bodies will pay it forward.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Breaking Trail

I slipped my sunglasses on at 7:30 this morning to walk the dog. The storm had stopped around midnight, the sun was shining, and not many folks were out and about yet. The driveway of our complex was squeaky packed powder with huge drifts completely covering several cars. Beyond lay vast expanses of unbroken snow, and that is where Isabel and I headed. First we visited the pool where 12 inches of snow were piled on the diving board and guard chair. Next we treked up the stairs to the elementary school whose unplowed acreage gleamed in the morning sun. The sky was heartbreak blue and the only sound was some cranky blue jays fussing in the holly bush. I looked at Isabel and I swear she smiled as I unclipped her leash, then we waded in, spumes of powder rising in crystal clouds around us.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Snowed In

Today was our friend and neighbor Lauren's birthday. Before the weather reports turned dire, some friends were planning on driving up from North Carolina, and she had reservations at a couple of nice places for drinks and dinner with a club or two after.

"Can your friends come next weekend?" we asked her when she was totally bumming out earlier in the week. "Because if so? We'll make dinner for you on Saturday. That way you can have two birthdays!"

She was appreciative and disappointed at the same time, but you can't fight history! One of the top five snowstorms of all time was bearing down upon us, so what could we do??

Have an awesome dinner party, that's what! We invited the neighbors, made some cute little cupcakes, cooked a nice meal, shoveled the walk, built a fire in the fireplace, and popped some champagne.

Cabin fever? What cabin fever?

Friday, January 22, 2016

Making Do

That's me: lying on the floor in front of the fire listening to an audiobook while bread bakes in the oven, soup simmers on the stove, and snow falls steadily outside.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

We'll See

A steady stream of colleagues made their way to my classroom door starting on Tuesday, when news of the big storm potentially coming began to spread. "What do you think?' they wanted to know.

I'm not sure how I got to be the snow seer, but I kind of like it. 

'No school Friday," I predicted confidently. "And if it's what they're saying it could be? I'll see you in February!"

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

And Then Some!

In a year when there was doubt about getting any snowfall we are facing a blizzard warning for Friday.

I can handle that if necessary.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Drain Reaction

"Do you have How to Train Your Dragon?" a student asked this afternoon. "I want to read that next."

"I might," I told him. "Who's the author?"

He shrugged and picked up his iPad. "Hey Siri! Who wrote How to Train Your Dragon?" He did a doubletake at the screen and snickered. "She thinks I said How to DRAIN Your Dragon!"

"That's easy," said the kid next to him. "You just put his hand in warm water." The two of them laughed.

"Speaking of that," another student raised his hand. "Can I go to the restroom?"

Monday, January 18, 2016

Turning Point

Since Josh was admitted to the hospital last Sunday night I have not cooked a single meal; every evening has been eat out or take out. So tonight, when I pulled out the cutting board and knife, opened a beer, turned on the kitchen TV, and began to prepare a hearty soup to end this cold, cold day, I sighed, because for the moment? All was right in our little world.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Conversational Snow

"Look! It's snowing!" I said as we walked out of the movie theater this afternoon. 

"Did they say we were going to get snow?" Heidi asked in return. 

"Not the last time I looked," I answered, "but it's obviously not going to stick. Sure is pretty though."

"AND it's not rain!" Heidi noted as we turned to walk home. 

Saturday, January 16, 2016

They the People

The other day at school a couple of eighth grade students made a presentation at our Leadership Team meeting. The gist of their proposal was to form a student advisory committee to the principal. Their rationale was that A) many students are intimidated to approach teachers with their concerns, and B) everyone knows that the student council elections are just popularity contests. They wanted the teachers to appoint a diverse group of students who could affect real change.

There was a polite smattering of applause, but I did not join in. When they left, the principal looked around. It seemed like she was all for the idea. I raised my hand. "I think this proposal completely disenfranchises our students. What about democracy? If we think that the SCA elections aren't working, then we should fix them."

There was considerable discussion after that. One suggestion was to institute a bicameral council, half appointed and half elected. I made eye contact with the social studies teacher across the room. "A House of Lords and a House of Commons!" we cried in unison.

In the end, there was not a final decision-- the administrative team put it on their agenda to discuss some more-- but our system of student-elected representatives was safe for another little while.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Who Knew?

It was nearly 8 pm when we left the hospital last night. Heidi glanced at her fit bit. "Wanna take the stairs?" she asked.

"Down?" I shrugged and pushed the elevator button. "What good will that do?"

"It will give us steps," she answered.

The elevator doors slid open. "C'mon," I said, "we can walk on the way down."

We had the elevators to ourselves, and we giggling as we marched in tight circles around the perimeter as we descended five floors.

"Whoa!" I gasped as we staggered out into the lobby. "Note to self: exercising on elevators will make you very dizzy!"

Thursday, January 14, 2016

On Location

I spent the day in the hospital with Josh. He is in much better spirits, but there are a few health issues that must be resolved before he can be discharged. As usual in a hospital, he is at the mercy of the hospitalist, the specialist, and their busy schedules.

His parents, uncle, and girl friend are out of town, so part of my responsibility today was to update the group by text message, and for a while this morning I was flooded with questions that I couldn't answer until we saw the doctor. Josh and I were laughing that when he finally came in, we were going to make him do a live chat. 

"I'm going to say, "A caller in Colorado wants to know how to manage colitis with diet." I said. 

"Michelle from Pennsylvania wonders when the chest x-ray is going to happen," Josh continued. 

"A listener named Heidi asks how you know if the steroids are working," I added. 

"If we do that to him," Josh said, "we'll probably never see him again!"

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Bank Error in your Favor

The text came around 5 am, just as our radio alarm began broadcasting coverage of President Obama's last SOTU address.

Fever of 106. He's getting some Tylenol and they're going to monitor his temperature closer.

I am no medical professional, but that number seemed high enough to Google immediately. What I read was alarming: hallucinations, seizures, brain damage. Oh no! Josh was in trouble! It seemed like things were going to get worse before they got better.

Heidi and I went into crisis mode immediately. We knew Kate, his girlfriend, had to leave today, so Heidi planned to get into school and make arrangements to get up to the hospital as soon as possible. I would prepare to take tomorrow off. We didn't want him to have to spend much time alone in the hospital when his condition was so serious.

At school, my mind was not on my job as I prepared for the day. Lots of texts were pinging in from all over, concerned with this turn of events. Then, around 8 we got one more message.

I think it was 100.6 instead (sorry I was half asleep). He says he's feeling alright.

I'm still taking off tomorrow, though. Treat and I are going to bring some games to room 518 and play!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Live from VHC

It had been a long day: at 5:30 pm the school day was behind us; Larry was on his way back to Colorado; Kate, Josh's girlfriend had slipped to our house for a shower and a nap; Heidi was roaming the hospital hallways trying to get her steps, and my phone was blowing up as I sat waiting in Josh's room for him to be wheeled up from his procedure. A nurse I had never met before came into the room. "Not back yet?" she asked rhetorically.

"Any idea when he'll be up?" I asked ignoring my phone's buzzing.

She gave me an appraising look. My phone buzzed again. I could tell privacy was on her mind. "And you are...?"

It was a question with a complicated answer. I shrugged. "His aunt," I started, and my phone buzzed. I laughed. "You don't don't have to tell me, " I said, "but people all over the country are waiting for an update." My phone buzzed on cue. "I'd hate to disappoint them."

"He was finished about 15 minutes ago. The hospitalist is reading his chart right now. If I had to guess, I'd say he should be up here by 6."

"Thanks!" I told her, and my thumbs were already going.

Monday, January 11, 2016

On Their Clock

It was nearly 10:30 when the hospitalist finally stopped by Josh's emergency room digs. A probable bout of colitis combined with exhaustion and a touch of the flu had brought him here via California, New York, Hershey, PA, and urgent care. He had been waiting for about six hours to see whether he would be admitted or sent home after some blood work, a CAT scan, and fluids.

"Oh, we plan to admit you," the young doctor said, "and with your symptoms, you'll get a GI consult and probably a colonoscopy. But we're actually pretty crowded right now, and it might be a while before we take you upstairs."

And when we asked about an approximate timeline for further tests and treatment? "It's hard to say," she shook her head. "We tend to move pretty quickly down here. They have a whole other time frame up there."

So maybe he'll be out by spring break?

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Groomer Has It

After all he had been through-- bear attack, smothering, waterfall, starvation, infection, freezing, riding over a cliff, and spending the night naked in a horse carcass, Leonardo DiCaprio fixed those steely blue eyes on the captain. "I'm going with you," he rasped.

I leaned over to Heidi. "I hope he washes his hair first!" I whispered.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Walk On

It was a little disappointing when we walked down to the movies this afternoon only to find that our preferred film was sold out, but with no other shows of interest in the next couple of hours, we decided to turn around and walk home

cheerfully (!)

with a stop at 7-11 for a few Powerball tickets,

and a plan to watch Listen to Me Marlon on TV,

and 3787 steps.

Friday, January 8, 2016

The Chasm of Sar

It was a bit of a chaotic day in my English class today-- students were finalizing drafts, posting to our online classroom, and making sure they were ready for the word study quiz on Monday. For such a variety of activity to be successful, most of the students need to be self-regulated and on-task. On days like today, when I am trying to assist as many students as possible, my reminders are not always so gentle.

"Do you think I became a teacher so that I could tell kids to be quiet and get to work over and over again?" I asked with a slight edge of frustration the the third time I had to speak to one particular student.

The room was suddenly silent, and that bubble of self-righteous irritation in my chest deflated. I realized how silly I sounded.

"If so," I continued in a much kindlier tone, "then thanks for giving my life such meaning!"

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Square One

I wanted to learn some picks and rolls on my new banjolele, and so I turned to Google. The instrument itself is still rather rare, but I found a few beginner pieces for ukulele and I printed them out for my first lesson of the new year tonight. My teacher was delighted and supportive as usual. He listened and even added chords to the basic sheet music.

And that is how I spent 20 minutes playing Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star and Old MacDonald.

You better believe they were kick ass versions, though!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

All Relative

It's amazing how balmy 35 degrees is after just 2 days of below freezing temperatures!

(Happy Birthday, Dad!)

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

That's What it's all About

Every year it seems like there is one English class out of the four or five I teach that is just a little more challenging than the rest. Lessons that work perfectly for every other group somehow fall flat for these kids; work that other classes easily complete is not so for them, and it's hard not to blame those students when there is evidence that my planning was sound.

This year it is the last class period of the day when things seem to go awry. As an example, yesterday, less than 4%, or 2 out of 55, of the students in my other classes forgot or did not complete their reading logs, but in that class? It was three times that many and ten times that percentage-- 6 out of 15, or 40%. The classes are randomly, heterogeneously grouped, so what's a teacher to do?

Well, the job is to teach everyone, not just the easy ones, and so I try to set aside my frustration and problem solve. As a group, they are a smart, energetic, but unfocused bunch of kids who all want to do well in school and learn. It is their last core class of the day, an hour after lunch and right before they head off to PE and electives.

I always include structured movement opportunity in my lessons, and today was no exception. We were doing an activity where they had to evaluate a piece of writing with a partner. It was set up like speed dating so that one or the other student would have to move after each question and work with somebody new. For these guys, I decided to up the ante.

"Vote with your feet!" I said when going over the answers. "If you think this was a summary, do the Hokie Pokie!" They all jumped up, waved their hands in the air and turned around.

Next question, "If you think this is synthesis? Give me 5 jumping jacks!" The room erupted in vigorous calisthenics.

And so it went, until it was time for them to settle down and apply the principles we had just discussed to their own writing...

in blessed silence.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Tabloid Fodder

On the first day back from Winter Break my sixth graders were pretty animated discussing what they had read over break. "I finished the Harry Potter series!" one student announced, and before I could even congratulate her she continued in a wail. "Whyyyyyy did Fred have to die??"

I shrugged sympathetically and opened my mouth to reply, but she kept talking. "And Tonks?? And Lupine?? They just had a baby!"

I nodded, and she kept going. "But Harry and Ginny and Ron and Hermione? Yay! Those are good couples!"

"Wow!" said the girl next to her. "I don't know anything about Harry Potter, but I feel like you're talking about the Kardashians!"

Rita Skeeter would certainly agree!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

So Cranks the Machine

Those who know me well are aware that I am not an avid clothes shopper. What with ordering online and supplementing at Target, years have literally passed in between shopping excursions for me. That has not been so this year, however.

We started our holiday shopping on Halloween, when Heidi's parents were here, and believe it or not, we finished it today with the last of the gift exchanges and returns. I have to admit that I was shocked at how much more streamlined the stores had their merchandise displays. They seemed downright empty.

Gone were extra racks and tables that I assumed were permanent, and anything I had seen before Christmas that was still left had been moved to the back clearance section and replaced by fitness gear, storage bins, luggage, and spring clothing. It was shocking, but kind of impressive in its own way.

As the weather finally turns colder, I felt lucky that I didn't really need anything for winter!

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Overheard at the Lincoln Memorial

We have keeeel-baaaa-see, York-shy-er pudding, and onion gravy, Hon-- just heat it up!

Friday, January 1, 2016

A New Year Wish

I had the New Years dinner preparations well in hand this afternoon when it came time to bread the chicken. The table was set, the black-eyed peas had been stewing and the greens had been braising since earlier in the day. The ham was sliced; the rice cooker at the ready, and water on to blanch the corn.

When I grabbed the homemade bread crumbs, I noticed a small bag of extra crumbs next to them and tossed them all together with some salt, paprika, and hot pepper. As I took the pounded chicken paillards from their buttermilk and egg bath and dredged away, a faintly familiar smell, sweet and cinnamony, wafted from the bread crumbs.

I froze a moment, eyes wide. Could it be?

Tasting a quick pinch confirmed my fears. It was graham cracker crumbs that I had added to my mixture. All was not lost by any means, and when I confessed my error to my brother, we briefly wondered if perhaps this might be one of those legendary accidents that become an amazing tradition.

Alas, the answer was a resounding nope, but it was nothing a little hot sauce couldn't fix. May all the mistakes of 2016 be so easy to remedy!