Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Blah, Blah, Blah

I know. I hate New Year's Resolutions too. So I'm not making any -- that I actually think I'll keep.
Cause here's how it will go, I'll make them and break them and then feel guilty. I don't need any more guilt in my life. I know what I need to do. I need to write more and run more and love my family more. Done.
I like the way this old year is ending. I like having extra money in the bank account so I can pay any bills that fly this way. Ka-ching.
I've got some great ideas for my novel, now I just actually need to sit down and write them.
That's why, when I heard boys voices at 5 a.m., I pulled myself out of bed. Yes, I spent an hour happily paying bills online and looking at the blogosphere, but now I'm ready to finish this post and keep working on my novel.
The boy voices make me kind of sad that they decided to end the old year by staying up all night. Six of them, 15 and 16-year-olds in the basement, playing Xbox and watching bad sitcom reruns. The Grape Crush bottle lays empty on the granite countertop. Boy shoes big enough for the cats to ride in bunch together at the top of the basement stairs. One boy is coughing, probably allergic to cats.
I hoped that maybe Spencer, perenially tired from all that growing, had gone to sleep, leaving some of the the younger boys to carouse all night. Then I heard his laugh.
It's good to hear boys laugh too.
They're quiet now at 6:30 a.m., but I'll wake them all by 8:30 as I head out the door to get Tucker to swim team. I'll send them home to sleep away the last day of the old year, then awake in time to celebrate the new.
As for me, I'll spend the morning with my husband, a little post Christmas shopping and returns. We'll have lunch together, maybe fish and chips or Shepherd's Pie at the Irish place in the Brewery District, and come home to watch some football bowl games before he heads off to work.
My friend Sheila is having a party so I plan to go over there with my six-pack of Smirnoff Ice. Oops! Make that a 5-pack since I drank one last night.
Here's a picture of Tupi starting his New Year celebration way too early. Grace wants to have friends over, and, although they're a very tame crowd, I'll probably feel it necessary to come back home and chaperone long before midnight.
This has been a good year. I've worked a lot. I've posted a lot on my blog. I've packed away one novel but have a good start on the next. I've run a lot of miles and shared those miles with friends. I've seen my kids grow and make plans for the future.
2010 is going to be a doozy. I hope I remember to enjoy it.
Happy New Year to everyone and thanks for reading.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Too Sick

Too sick to lie on the couch and watch TV. Too sick to read. Too sick to talk on the phone. That's how I felt yesterday. I could only lie in my bed with my hand over my face grasping the sides of my head. That and getting up to vomit were my only activities.
I woke up with a headache. Truthfully, it felt like what I remember from long ago hangover headaches. I decided to get over it. I had a glass of water while Grace got ready for swim practice. Then I popped two Advil before I woke Spencer up for basketball. I dressed, shoved my computer in a bag and determined to go to the coffee shop to write after I dropped him at school.
"Uhh," I moaned as we drove toward the high school.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"My head hurts so much I feel like I'm going to throw up."
I let him out and watched him trudge through the snow. Then I turned left toward the coffee shop. I sat in the parking lot for a few minutes, fighting the headache and nausea before I drove back home. I sat in the garage for a few minutes.
That's when I got that feeling in the pit of my stomach. You know the one. It means you had better run for the bathroom.
I got out of the car and grabbed my computer. I hurried up the sidewalk. Nope. I wasn't going to make it.
Tucker had carefully shuffled his name in the snow the night before. But it said TUKER with a little carat between the U and K to add the C he had forgotten. "Sorry, Tuck," I thought as I bent over the snow and threw up. I hoped none of my neighbors were outside.
I continued the walk to the house. Darn! I had locked the door. I puked once more in the brick flower box beside the back door. It was covered with snow so I hoped it would kind of wash things away.
When I finished in the bathroom, I threw my clothes on the floor and climbed into bed. My husband was still in bed.
"Don't talk to me. Don't touch me. I'm throwing up," I said.
And he said, "What?"
That's where I spent the day, vaguely wondering if this was a migraine with vomiting, or a stomach virus with headache.
The headache was definitely the worst part. Each time I leaned over the toilet, I thought, "Oh, please, don't let the kids catch this." They don't have the pain tolerance I do and I was miserable.
So yesterday, I didn't work on my novel, I didn't work out and I didn't get to see Spencer's basketball game,
I ate and drank nothing until about 6:30 when Tucker brought me half an inch of Seven Up.
About 8:30, I ventured out to the couch to watch the Wisconsin/Univ. of Miami game, only leaving it a few times to throw up again.
This morning, the headache was waiting for me, but not as severe. I feel it prodding me gently above my left eye. I might not get a workout in, but I've already had a cup of tea, so I hope for a more productive day.
Ugh! I hate being sick.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Careful What You Wish For...

The day before Thanksgiving, I was nearly in tears. Our holiday was going to consist of me, my husband and our three children. Earl had to work. I would do the cooking with the kids help. It didn't seem like much of a holiday. So I called my mom in Florida on my way to work that Wednesday.
"Please won't you and Dad come up for Christmas?" I begged. "I can't stand another holiday without family."
So they came up to Ohio. And my nephew in the Navy came home from Seattle. Then last week, after a flurry of phone calls, my older brother in Texas drove to my grandmother's house in Kentucky. He brought along his teenage daughter and 21-year-old son. Grace and I made the four-hour drive on Sunday morning to spend the afternoon celebrating my grandmother's 92nd birthday. Here's our whole family, minus my boys and husband.

In addition, my aunt, another uncle, a cousin and his wife and their two college-aged children all came too.
The kids had a good time catching up.

Well, I guess they aren't kids anymore. The girls range in age from 13 to 20.
But they caught up with each other like cousins do. They talked and played some music.

My cousin's son Logan is a freshman in college. He has acquired the nickname "The Rooster" but we don't want to know why.
The grown ups (that's me) reminisced about the days when they played Little House on the Prairie, roaming the woods behind my grandmother's house. Then we talked about how they played dress up and how most of them wouldn't fit in my grandmother's clothes now.
I wanted family for Christmas; I got family.
Grace and I drove home Sunday night in a snowstorm. Over the river...

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Growing Up

One of my favorite pictures of all time was taken at my parents' blueberry farm in Kentucky more than 20 years ago. My nephew Michael, about two years old, was standing on rocks by a creek with a small waterfall. He was leaning over and swatting at the waterfall with a plastic tennis racket. His blue stretchy shorts cover a diaper. His brown hair stands in curls on his head.
The reason I love this picture is because I know the story of what happens next. My soon-to-be husband Earl was playing with Michael. He stood behind him on the rocks.
Minutes after the picture was taken, Michael fell head first into the creek. What Earl and I still remark on was the silence after that fall, until Earl reached in and pulled Michael out. Then the wailing filled the country air.
This week, Michael came home for Christmas. He is in the Navy and he hasn't been home for Christmas in four years. He drinks a lot of beer. He can drink 12 according to him. He has been married and then divorced when his new bride met his submarine and informed him she was moving in with her boyfriend. He has tattoos. He talks a lot and finds something in common with each of his younger cousins who have grown exponentially since he left four years ago.
He played guitar with Tucker and talked to Spencer about cars. He faked shock that Grace could be old enough to graduate high school.
His mother showed me the awards he had won for being indispensable while working on the nuclear sub.
The kids started talking about jobs and Spencer said he didn't want to be a lifeguard any more because the pressure was too much. Spencer saved four kids this summer and just worried that he might miss one.
Michael didn't bat an eye, but said, "I've saved millions."
We have no idea where Michael's sub goes and he can't tell us. We only know his whereabouts when he surfaces. So we get pictures from Hawaii where he was sunburned after months underwater, but mostly he hangs out in Seattle waiting for the next time he goes on sub duty again.
I watched him open the quilt my mother had made and wrap it around him. He has changed a lot from that impulsive two year old with the piled up curls. But that boy is still there inside him.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Happy Birthday to my Husband


Today, my husband is officially eight years older than I am. But that only lasts for two months.
This has been a big year of change for him, for our family. His job has changed, some parts better, some worse. He works eight hours and is finished but he has to work evenings. He doesn't bring work home with him, but he doesn't look forward to going very much.
Since he is home during the day, we have a lot more together time when I am not teaching. There are times when he expects me to have equal free time, but "not at work" does not equal "free time" for me. He has picked up the slack I left behind with the housework and laundry. When I have worked all day, I often come home to a clean house, piles of folded laundry waiting on the bed..
When we married nearly 20 years ago, I knew he was a nice guy, but I was too young to know how wisely I had chosen. I saw that when the waitress dropped a tray, he got up to help her. I saw that when he refused one of the many homeless people in Key West who asked for money then later saw the woman sleeping in a car, he knocked on the window of the car to give her money. He was obviously a decent person.
Over the years, if anything, he has come to love me more, and I don't know how I got so lucky. His first thought is what will make me happy, what will make things easier for me. And, although he ocassionally guesses wrong, or causes a flap with the kids, I know that his motives are true.
Sometimes we fight. Sometimes loudly. But underneath, I feel very blessed that I married a man who has grown with me instead of apart from me.
And this afternoon, when the romantic lunch we had planned fell through as the kids chose to skip this swim practice and stay home, he shrugged and drank the mellow glass of chardonnay. He knows that, although today is a special day, it won't be the last opportunity for us to share a romantic afternnon.
Happy birthday, Earl.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

College Football


I know this is a strange confession to make, but I love college football. As a matter of fact, when Earl and I began talking about moving to France, one of the first things I wondered was whether I'll be able to watch college football on Saturday afternoons in France. I know! So stupid. Why would a person in France want to sit around and watch American boys hit each other and try to get the football to the end zone.
I grew up with two brothers and a dad who are sports fanatics. Football was always on during the weekends in the fall. When I went to college, first Eastern Kentucky then Wilmington, they both had good football teams and I went to the games on crisp afternoons to cheer on the teams.
Somewhere along the line, it became nearly an obsession. I root for Ohio State now. That's where Earl went and almost everyone in Ohio, including my two brothers, root for OSU. But I watch all the other games as well, calculating how a loss by the number five team could boost OSU's chance and move it up in the polls.
My boys love to watch too and Grace will come into the living room with a book so she can share the junk food snacks we munch. Inevitably, swim meets begin to interfere with college football Saturdays, and I'll find myself standing in an exercise room watching the game while my children swim in the nearby pool.
Then the season draws to a close much too soon and I have to wait another nine months before it comes around again.
Maybe it isn't just college football. Maybe it's the season. The fall is my favorite. The leaves start turning and the sky becomes the clearest blue ever. We walk through crunchy leaves and cook chili. We nestle under throw blankets on the couch and we all sit together rooting for our favorite team. Maybe I'm not obsessed with football but with those sights and sounds.
Even when I'm alone on a Saturday afternoon though, I turn on football, so I don't think I can claim it's merely family togetherness.
The first week of January brings the college football bowl games. After that, I look across the cold months of February and March then the entire spring and summer before football begins again.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Family Christmas Photo

Disclaimer: No teenagers were harmed in the making of these family photos; however, parents may have been verbally harangued.

As you can see, our mantle is nicely decorated for Christmas.

Once our family stands in front of it, all the Christmas cheer is blocked.

We can't get everyone to smile or look normal at the same time. We move in front of the Christmas tree,but some of us are forward and others are in the back. This looks more like an album cover and I'm obviously the lead singer.
Things start to fall apart then. Spencer, who is much more handsome than these pictures show, would have none of the silliness and he retreated. Meanwhile, the mayhem began.
Somewhere there has to be a picture I can use in our Christmas letter, and I've promised I'll finish it by tomorrow. Wish me luck.

Wrapping Paper


This morning before Mass I needed to wrap a Christmas present for my goddaughter. I rolled out the blue paper with white snowflakes on my bed and began cutting it. That's when I wondered if everyone wraps Christmas presents on their bed. I've seen House Hunters or the Home & Garden section of the newspaper talking about wrapping rooms. I wondered what kind of people could devote an entire room of their house to wrapping presents.
When I wait to wrap all of the presents on the night before Christmas, my back begins to hurt from leaning over the bed. It seems a small price to pay. Or, I could wrap a few every day so that I'm finished on Christmas Eve.
How about you, where do you wrap?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Complaints Again

Did I say that I was finished complaining about the "university" where I teach? Well, I've changed my mind. I just finished grading all of my papers and rather than doing a happy dance, I feel like crying.
The dean sent out a message on Wednesday that any adjuncts who wanted to be paid this year for the quarter we taught needed to submit grades and our invoice by noon on Friday. Those of us with Friday night courses were allowed to submit by noon on Saturday.
My class, my very difficult and needy class, met Friday from 6 to 9:30 p.m. My 26 students each diligently handed in final drafts of their 5 to 8 page research essays. I sat through their presentations, marking their grades. Then, I had until today at noon to grade them all, put the grades in the gradebook and send a copy along with the invoice to the Dean.
And I did it. I made it with about 13 minutes to spare. I sent the email with the attachments and went to talk to my husband who I had blown off, saying, "I've got to finish this."
Then, I went back to check my email and saw an "Out of the office" message from the dean. She wasn't in today.
That means I won't be paid this year for a class I've been teaching since the last week of October. I should probably get paid mid-January or at the end of January. It shouldn't be a big deal, but it irks me. I was looking forward to a full bank account, of being able to send off extra money for bills right after Christmas.
Sigh!!!
On the plus side, last night at the end of class, I had several students come up to me and thank me for the class. This was a class of complainers, so I was surprised. Even the student who I suspected might be packing heat because he was so hostile toward me, thanked me.
One student, who is originally from Africa, he's exuberant and happy and lively, came up and said, "It is we who should be thanking you. You made this class so good."
And I said, "No, M. The students really determine how entertaining the class is."
He shook his head, and said, "No, thank you."
That felt good.
I'm committed to one more class at this university and then I'll regroup. I feel that they don't treat their adjunct faculty very well, and they certainly don't compensate us for all the extras they expect.
I have at least a week before I have to start planning classes again. I think I'll enjoy Christmas and forget about teaching for awhile.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Making Friends


It's funny that as a kid making friends is so important. Being friends with the right people becomes even more important as we edge toward our teen years. Now that I'm an adult, I spend very little effort trying to make new friends. And I'm feeling it now.
I have a few close friends, but I lost most of my daily friends in one fell swoop when we stopped homeschooling more than two years ago. I would see the homeschool moms nearly every weekday when we homeschooled. Now, I rarely see most of them.
Recently, I had an epiphany about friends though. I was leaving the high school where we had been schlepping the boxes full of costumes in the prop room. The mother in charge decided that even though it isn't time to plan costumes for the spring musical, we will organize all the costumes. So we emptied all of the closets and pulled all the crates off the high shelves where they are stacked four deep. Since then we've been methodically separating. We started with hats, which was fun because we tried them on and acted silly. The woman in charge, Jennie, brought along her 7th grade son who was sweet and polite and funny. He tried on hats too.

A gathering of homeschool friends.
The following week we separated the pants by color and fabric and put them in the proper bins. Then this week, Grace came along and we did skirts. We fill the hall with eight bins full of skirts and separated them according to color. Then we decided we needed to divide them according to skirt length.
We meet each week to work on the prop room and have for quite awhile since the fall play. During the fall play, I was full of complaints. We worked twice a week and I had other things I needed to do!
Then last week was my epiphany. I am making friends with Jennie. This is how it happens. You work together on something, even if you complain about it (which I did, but she didn't). You start sharing stories about your children, your work, your husband, your life. And, before you know it, you have a new friend.
This week, I had a question about Grace's scheduling conflict with swimming and choir. Since Jennie's daughter is in both, I called her and asked what her daughter planned to do. This was another step in the friendship ladder (and ladders have been an important part of our friendship so far since we keep climbing up them in the prop room). Maybe someday we'll reach the point where I can call her just to see how her day is going. Maybe she and her husband will come over to have drinks.
I had two other invitations to meet mothers of high school students for drinks. So Sunday night and Monday night, I spent chatting over drinks.
Suddenly, my dearth of friends is turning into a deluge. And just in time.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

In the Grasp of the Green-Eyed Monster


When other people succeed, we should feel happy for them, I tell my kids. That doesn't diminish your chances for success, I say.
So I hate it when I find myself resenting someone who succeeded so easily at something I have been trying to achieve. That's exactly how I felt when I clicked on a blog yesterday. It's on a list of blogs that I read occasionally. The woman is already living my dream. American, living in France. She took the summer off blogging to focus on a "story" she wanted to write.
I remember thinking, "How cute" and "Wish it was that easy." I don't know if I've even looked at her blog since then, but yesterday I clicked on it and there was a copy of the story from Publisher's Weekly about her three-book deal. Young adult series. Zombies.
Okay, I don't know if I'll ever write a young adult novel and zombies don't really enter my vocabulary or my thought process, but I felt the bite of jealousy. Why was there a book deal for her?
I want to be happy for her. Terrific. That's awesome! Way to go!
Instead, I think, why not me?
At least the news lit a fire under me. "Remember that you were going to spend Christmas break writing, not running." Well, I'll just have to do both.
I'll be the Biggest Loser and the prolific writer all at once. If I don't finish this next one, which is going to be better than ever, I can never sell it and copy my own Publisher's Weekly article.
Congratulations, Amy. Hopefully, one day I'll join your circle.
http://chitlinsandcamembert.blogspot.com/

Monday, December 14, 2009

Christmas Break Exercisorama


I was going to call this post The Biggest Loser because that is where the idea came from. I had never watched the television show The Biggest Loser but only seen the commercials when I cattily pointed out a huge man at a swim meet. I said to my friend Pat, "That man is nearly big enough to be on The Biggest Loser."
"Oh, he is," Pat assured me. Turned out he watched the show. He explained that it was different from other competitive shows because everyone really rooted for each other. They knew they all needed to stay. I got curious and watched the show a few times. Last week was the weight loss finale and the winner lost more than 50 percent of his body weight. I'm not sure how long that process took, probably 6 months to a year, still it seemed extreme.
The thing about the biggest loser is that these overweight people exercise all the time. That's why I decided that Christmas Break will be my exercisorama with a lot of working out. I have three weeks before classes start again and I intend to get back into shape so I can run 10 miles without lugging extra pounds around.
The fact that my kids have Christmas Break swim practices everyday except Christmas and New Year should make it easier for me to keep my pledge. Sometimes they have two-a-day practices. When they're in the pool, I plan to be on the treadmill or the bicycle or the stairstepper or lifting weights.
So far, most of my friends have refused to join in, but one of the swim moms says she'll be in the gym with me.
So I started this morning with a 45-minute run. It's longer than my runs have been this fall as I rushed to get back to prepare for class or grade papers. I plan to follow up with a walk tonight and then tomorrow I'll extend my run to 60 minutes.
I do have one concern. I think when I trained for the marathon, I messed up my metabolism. My body thought we needed to horde fat and calories for those long runs. Don't you think that will happen again? If I exercise like crazy, will my body start to store fat again?
In addition to getting in shape, I've promised myself the present of a new song from iTunes for everyday I work out. So I'm going to need your help with some suggestions. I need good, fast running music. Tucker seems to pick music that I always enjoy, mixing alternative and pop. This morning, my favorite song on my run was "The Great Escape" by Boys Like Girls.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JGPgxoIPY6Q
Any suggestions?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

It's the Most Wonderful Time...

Yippee!
If you heard cries of joy and saw fireworks in the sky, no doubt you assumed that I had finished grading essays for my five classes. And that would be correct. At 10:02 p.m., I entered the last grades for the main college where I teach. Now, I just need to get through the other two classes, and truly I have very little that I have to do to prepare for class this week. Think of the stress whooshing out of me, at least until I pick up those 27 papers Friday night that must be graded by Sunday.
Even though I've been wading through essays, life didn't stop here. That is why we went yesterday afternoon to pick out a Christmas tree. When we lived in Michigan, we always cut down a tree. Now we just go to the tree lot at the YMCA. The men's group is in charge and they call is the Y's Men trees. Get it?

I had planned to stay home and grade while everyone else picked out the tree, but it became a domino effect. Then Tucker was going to stay home too, and Spencer didn't really care. Earl was feeling sick...
I put down my papers and went along. I loved watching Tucker attempt to shake out the tree.
We left it outside last night during the basketball games and swim meet and then woke up to rain this morning. Today, when it was time to set it up, I'm not going to lie, there was yelling. I find a little yelling with swear words thrown in enhances the Christmas spirit.
The boys moved the coffee table then Grace and Tucker moved a chair so the tree could go in front of the window.
Earl set up the tree in its stand and this evening the kids and I decorated while he was at work.

I had the kids pose with the tree afterwards. Grace and I nearly fell over laughing when we realized that Spencer is unable to sit on his heels. He's that inflexible. Hopefully that is connected to how much he has grown this year and eventually he'll become more flexible than a 90-year-old.
In all sincerity, I hope that I can relax and enjoy my kids a little more now that my grades are turned in. I'm going to make it my New Year's resolution to complain less and laugh more. This weekend was a good start, because the kids made me laugh, maybe even guffaw, at least twice.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Chewing My Leg Off to Escape...


I knew I might be hitting a wall when I woke up several times last night and went over what I should have said, what I should have emailed to the unsupportive dean, to the complaining student, to the full-time faculty member who stood me up for a meeting.
When work begins to infiltrate my sleep, it may be time to bail. I feel like I'm stuck though.
The University where I teach pays by contract. I get one pay check two weeks after the end of the 8-week session. My thought was that this would be a good way to save for college. Big checks that could be squirreled away for college. I'm not sure how much longer I can last.
Thanksgiving interrupted our class and things have been in turmoil. I've caught three students plagiarizing. The one immediately began to revise his ways. The other two, originally from Africa and with a bit of a language barrier, looked at me blankly. Yes, they submitted their essays to turnitin.com and it shows that 89% of the essay was not their work. Was there a problem with that? One went back and put 89% of his essay in quotation marks. Would that work? Not so much.
Then I had the student who sat through class with his arms folded across his chest and refused to join in any group activities. When I asked the students to evaluate their peer reviewers, he ended with the comment: "But what do I know? According to you, NOTHING." So now I'm afraid he's going to bring a gun into class and shoot us all down, especially me.
Last week, after class, about eight students waited for me to complain about the grades they'd gotten on their evaluative essays. Most of them had the same problem they had gone off topic. Rather than evaluating the articles, they ventured into their own lives. One student in particular (OCD) said, "I am very concerned about this class."
Now, I'm thinking, okay the class has jumped the shark. But I asked: "What do you mean exactly? That you're worried about your grade?"
"Well... yes," she said.
Oh, well. That's different. I explained again why she received the B rather than an A. Then yesterday, I had an email from the Dean and from a "Success Counselor" asking about her grades.
The grades are posted online. She can just click on it any time and see that she has 90% in class, which is an A. In this college, an A is an A, whether it's 99% or 90%. What about learning something? Does anyone care about that any more?
Meanwhile, I've spent the past three weeks working on a new training course that takes about five hours of work per week. I still have the final "exam" to take which is scheduled to take two and a half hours. I haven't even had time to think about grading finals for the other college where grades are due Monday.
I set up an appointment at the "University" with a full-time faculty member to discuss the plagiarism issue. I drove the 15 minutes to campus and she wasn't there. Knock, knock, knock. Nothing. I left a snarky note then found another faculty person to talk to about my frustrations. She told me another adjunct teacher had left, saying he couldn't put in the amount of hours they needed. His time was worth more.
I wonder now if my time is worth more. I know what the "University" is offering and it's my choice to accept it and shut up, or quit. I plan to avoid rash decisions while I am so stressed. I'm going to focus on getting all of my papers graded and giving a little speech in class tonight about the value of what they are learning. Then I may visit the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium because aquariums are supposed to lower the blood pressure, and I may need it.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

All Bluster, No Bite


I don't know about other parts of the country or the world,but here in Ohio, the weather forecasters are always predicting doom and gloom. If there's a snow storm in the west, they'll predict 10 inches of snow for us. If there's a heat wave in the south, we're sure to get it. The thing is, usually, they're wrong.
For nearly a week now, we were told yesterday would be a day of high winds. We know high winds here because more than a year ago, a faltering hurricane hit the Gulf of Mexico and swept all the way north, knocking out our power for a week. The weather forecasters didn't even mention this wind storm, by the way. We let our kids ride around town on their bikes and sent Grace driving to downtown Columbus where she watched branches blow across the road. I went to Panera to "work" and write blog posts while we had no power. I can't get the link to work, but you can check the archives for Sept. 2008 if you want to see how we coped for a week without electricity, grilling the chicken that was thawing in our freezer for dinner and using candles for light at night so we could read and play family board games.
This week,we were kind of excited for the predicted wind storm. We watched this big mass of clouds move across weather maps, dumping a foot of snow on all those flat states to the west. When we walked outside just before 7 on Wednesday morning, Grace commented that it felt like Florida. She was right. It was about 50 degrees. During the day, the sun shone and gorgeous puffy clouds skittered across the sky. Sometimes they looked like mountain ranges piled up to the east. Occasionally, the wind would gust. Someone's grill cover blew into the tree by our house. For the most part, the day was a dud. At least, we thought, we had the several inches of snow they were predicting overnight. I get up this morning. Nothing.
The temperature has dropped. It's a frigid 19 degrees, but that's about all the weather forecasters got right. The kids went to bed hoping the school would lose power or the teachers might not be able to get to school for all the snow. No luck. They'll have to slog off, another day in the coal mine.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Day Off


Not a day off for me, but when I finished giving my final exam this morning, I went to the middle school and said (authoritatively), "I need Tucker." The secretary, who is even shorter than I am, scurried to the schedule book and then went to the speaker contraption. "Mr. Page," she said. "Do you have Tucker? He's going to be leaving."
Then I signed my name, pressing especially hard on the pencil, to where it said, "Parent Signature." Under reason, other parents had written "sick," "ill," "orthodontist." I wrote, "Needed at home."
Tucker joined me. We didn't speak and didn't look from side to side as we walked purposefully toward the car. Once inside, we both relaxed a little.
"Panera or UDF?" I asked.
"UDF. Hmmm," he said.
So we drove to United Dairy Farmer and ordered milk shakes, even though it was only 10:30 in the morning. We did some Christmas decorating and Tucker watched the new Star Trek movie with his dad, who is off this week and feeling under the weather.
Earl isn't a big proponent of allowing children to miss school for no reason. I, on the other hand, think most days at school could be better spent. This may be my prejudice because I homeschooled for all of those years, but I don't get why school can't be half as long. Maybe they only need to go in the afternoons. Or maybe they could go in the morning and get out at noon.
When they're participating in sports or play or choir, they aren't allowed to miss any part of the school day, unless they bring a doctor's note. So Spencer and Grace are stuck at school all day, everyday. Spencer wouldn't dream of missing practice and Grace has already missed too many days of school for college visits. She's not staying home without a doctor's note. So I'll enjoy the time I have with the one child who isn't in high school.
He's not sick. He just wanted a day at home to hang out. And I know how he feels. Wouldn't we all?
My husband, and others, warn this will lead to a bad work ethic. What about when he's expected to work every day? Will he just call off for no reason?
Maybe, but then people who were forced to go to school everyday sometimes call off work for no reason too. So I don't think we're causing him irreparable harm. I'll let you know if he's still living in the basement when he's 30 and he asks me to call the boss to say, "Tucker's needed at home today."

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Still Hyperventilating


This is a stack of the papers I have to get graded, and it doesn't include my online classes or the blue books I received Monday or will get tomorrow during finals. A blue book is a composition book that I have students write in during class.
This weekend, I graded like a mad woman. I took time out to sit through one basketball game and one swim meet. Of course, I can grade in between events during the swim meet. I skipped another swim meet and basketball game to grade. Right now, I really wish I taught math. The answer is right or wrong, there's no in between, no analysis. The only thing I'm hanging on to is the fact that it has to end. Grades are due next Monday for one college and the following Monday for the other. I'm bound to have nearly two weeks without grading over Christmas break.
I scheduled two distractions this week. One was yesterday, lunch with Marcus. Last year, Marcus and I had lunch together once a week. We read each other's works in progress -- he's writing a screenplay and I'm writing a novel. We talked about my life with teenagers and his life preparing to marry a (practically) teenager. Last summer he got married (she's actually 26 and he's 40). We both took on a lot more classes, which cut down on our writing and meeting time. Plus, my husband doesn't work during the day any more, so it seems weird to tell him I'm having lunch with Marcus. I did tell him yesterday, "Do you mind if I have lunch with Marcus?" which seems rather wimpy of me. He said he didn't mind, "as long as you don't sleep with him." That was not a problem for me, and I told Earl that Marcus has the 26-year-old wife along with a 19-year-old sister-in-law living with him, so he is covered. Marcus makes me laugh. He's very sarcastic and self effacing, in spite of being "overly muscled" (as I told Earl) and having looks similar to a Calvin Klein model. I was going to take a picture of him, but the camera battery was dead, so let's pretend that I had lunch with this guy.
I only spent about an hour at lunch, but today, I've scheduled a longer break, pledging to spend the morning Christmas shopping with my husband and then having lunch before I dive into grading papers again. I'm looking forward to spending the time together, but I do feel anxious about getting the papers done. I promise not to look at the time on my cell phone while we're together. I'm going to relax and enjoy myself. I'd better include a picture of him too.Maybe I take my husband for granted, like most wives do. I'm more likely to clear my schedule for lunch with a friend than lunch with my husband. But, while I grade papers this afternoon, he'll be the one driving Tucker and his friends to swim practice, cleaning up after dinner and bringing me a blanket when I'm hunched over my papers. He's the one I want to go to France with this summer.
So I'd better get grading papers. Each paper represents another dollar going into that France fund.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Working World


For anyone, who like me, was fortunate enough to avoid the work world for a long time, I want to reassure you that you are not missing anything. Okay, maybe a paycheck, which is nice, and some work colleagues, which can be fun.
But I think when I tell you that the training class I am taking (required but without pay) is using words like pedagogy and Bloom's taxonomy, you'll realize how lucky you are to be cleaning toilets at home.
Here I am teaching 24 college credit hours, which means I'm grading about 60 hours per week, when one of the colleges decides all of its professors need a three-week training course that requires about five hours of work per week. I have to take quizzes and enter threaded discussions and, thank God, the webinar wasn't working so I got to avoid that.
Now I dream of the days when I threatened my children to get them to finish their algebra and sat around at floor hockey chatting with the other mothers. Sure, I worked writing articles for the local newspaper, but as long as I met my deadlines, no one was forcing me to jump through training hoops.
This afternoon I have a department meeting at the other college where I teach, but I don't mind these so much because A. I get paid, and B. It will be crowded enough that I can grade papers while the department chair talks. She's funny anyway, and, as you'll recall from an earlier post, she likes me!
If you have leisure time, enjoy it. As a matter of fact, enjoy some extra time for me.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

NaNoWriMo -- Abort


Anyone who actually reads the columns along the side of my blog may have noticed that this month was National Novel Writing Month and that I attempted to join in. Somehow, I stalled on Nov. 8 at 6,548 words. Well, I know how and it has to do with teaching and grading and parenting.
If I was trying to write 50,000 words in a month then I made a dismal attempt and failed miserably. However, since my novel is already in progress, I added those six thousand words to my work in progress and I'm at 38,000. In addition, think I really know where my book is going now. So maybe I'll look at it as adding 6,548 more words to my novel rather than a failure.
Next quarter I'm teaching even more hours, so what I absolutely need to do is get prepared for the winter break and plan to write like crazy for those two weeks, even though the kids will be home and my parents may come visit.
You don't think that's setting myself up for failure, do you?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Swim Musings


One of the dangers of having kids who swim on swim team is that they become bored with playing in the pool. Never do I hear the words, "Let's go swimming." Swimming is their job, literally for Grace and Spencer who are trained as lifeguards.
I remember as a kid, and as a teenager, that I spent my life at the pool. Splashing into the blue water and sitting on the bottom playing tea party. I would hold my breath for as long as I could, swimming from one side to the other without coming up for air. Then when I climbed out of the pool, I'd lie down on the hot cement and feel the water sizzle, the heat drawing the pool water from my ears and baking my skin. We'd go to the concession stand for frozen Zero bars and grumble about adult swim until it was time to jump in again.
When we went on vacation, driving for hours across the Blue Ridge Mountains or to Florida, all we hoped for was a hotel with a pool when we stopped. My brothers, sister and I would barely take the time to throw our bags in the room before we were changing into swimsuits and running out to the pool. In the pool, we could forget our petty disagreements, things that still linger in our relationships today as grown ups, and we could play. We'd dive for pennies or have splash contests. We'd ride on Dad's back or hang onto Mom's legs as she dipped them in the side of the pool, never really comfortable swimming.
Today, though, the weekend after Thanksgiving, I am in a hotel in Toledo biding my time between the Saturday afternoon swim meet and the Sunday afternoon swim meet. I went to the workout room, a mishmash of disabled treadmills and bicycles and I stopped to glance in at the pool. It didn't have a waterfall, like this picture from Carefreepools.com, but it had a wall of windows letting in the morning light and it was surrounded by palm trees and lounge chairs. The water was a sparkling blue, and I thought, I bet the kids would love this.
Tucker said, "I didn't bring a swimsuit." And since he's spending the weekend swimming at a swim meet, what he means is, he didn't bring board shorts, a "regular" swim suits. Instead, he has Speedo jammers that fit tight to his knees and help him shed time in his races.
Grace, who woke with coughing fits in the night, still sleeps. I can imagine the roll of her eyes if I suggest she gather her friends and go swimming.
In my mind, though, I picture myself in the lounge chair with the book I'm reading and the teenagers fill the pool. There are the rowdy boys, Ty and Gus and Jack and Tucker, throwing balls and diving for them, splashing the girls who are diving like mermaids, even as teenagers. The pool staff may look worried about the mayhem, and I'll reassure them that most of the kids in the pool are lifeguards themselves.
And I'll raise my eyes to the winter sunshine pouring through those big glass windows and be thankful for the fun that a swimming pool still provides, even to kids who spend up to 20 hours a week in the water.
My fantasy of fun in the pool is probably not going to happen this morning. Maybe someday, when they've swum through their high school and college days, maybe they'll remember what fun it is to play in the pool again.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thankful for the Rush

Aaaah! Here it is, a holiday. Time to sleep in and laze about the house, watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and sip some coffee. That is unless you're me and crazy enough to overbook even on a holiday.
It's hard to resist a Thanksgiving Day run that offers a bottle of wine at the end. So I'll be leaving soon to join two of my friends. We'll tie electronic chips to our shoes and run four miles before queuing up for that bottle of wine. My friend Pam, who hates to have any attention drawn to herself, signed up for the run but isn't going, because people might look at her and realize she's Pam. No, wait. That's PAM!!! Why couldn't I tie her chip to my other shoe and get two bottles of wine? I'm still mulling this one over.
Last night I lined up the recipes for today's big meal according to which would take the most time. The turkey, of course, a good four hours. We're going with a tried and true recipe that includes apple cider and soy sauce. Don't ask, but trust me it's good. Next come the sweet potatoes with Jack Daniels that take over an hour to bake. Tucker's in charge of the corn casserole at one hour. Cheesy garlic mashed potatoes a little less than an hour. Green bean casserole less than half an hour. Rolls 10 minutes. Oh, I forgot about the cranberries. I'll have to remind Grace to make those. She loves watching each cranberry explode out of it's skin as they cook into a thick jelly.
I looked at my recipes lined up along the counter and realized I needed to put the correct pan or casserole beside each one. If Earl started the sweet potatoes with the wrong pan, the rest of the dishes would fall into the wrong pan. It could be a disaster. Suddenly, I remembered the time Suburban Kamikaze went to her mil's house for the first time and made fun of her for laying out serving dishes with little name tags in them -- chips, rolls, lunch meat. Maybe I have become that person, the Midwest woman with name tags in the serving dishes.
We're trying to eat at noon then go over to Earl's sister's house at 2 to see her daughter home from Chicago and her other daughter's one-month-old. Then Earl has to go to work. The kids and I will come home and I'll finally have that lazy day I had planned.
Thanksgiving is supposed to be a time that you count your blessings, and, I do, but it's also a time when I miss family. I called my mom yesterday morning while I was on my way to work.
"Will you please come up for Christmas?" I asked. "I'm so tired of having holidays without any family around." I could feel myself near tears, but if you'd asked me I would have said I didn't feel especially sentimental about celebrating with just our immediate family, again. Mom said she'd talk to dad about it. I know it's hard on them to travel. They're in their 70s now, but we're so sewn in by swim team practices and basketball games. The kids can't get away for more than Christmas day and Earl has to work. We are caught here.
So, I am thankful for work. Earl saw his company teeter this year, and although he didn't keep the job he enjoyed, he did keep a job and his salary. I have more work than ever, and even if I complain, I'm grateful.
I'm thankful for my husband, who spends those new day time hours when he isn't working, taking care of the house and doing laundry, so I won't have so much work to do. I'm thankful and know I don't deserve a husband who always puts me first, thinking of my happiness.
I'm thankful for the way I see my kids growing and changing, becoming independent people, even when they are pains.
I'm thankful for my friends, who are spread few and far between, but loyal and wise.
Happy Thanksgiving. What are you thankful for?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Trust


This weekend we spent a long day at a swim meet, and about five hours into it, my daughter began to have lower back spasms. She lay face down on a blanket and stayed there until we were ready to leave. She sat up, her legs in front of her slightly bent at the knee preparing to stand. That's when she saw Ty walking through the gym toward his towel. She raised both arms up in the air toward him, and he grasped her hands and pulled her gently to her feet. He didn't jerk her or grab her ribs to tickle her afterward like some teenage boys might. He knew her back hurt.
"Do I get a hug?" he asked.
She wrinkled her nose at him. "You're all wet."
After a few minutes of negotiation, she wrapped her arms around his neck and squeezed.
I watched the scene as I packed our collapsible chairs and folded towels.
Grace had lifted her arms to Ty like she had to me as a baby in her crib. There was no doubt in her mind that Ty would come to her and pull her to her feet. His devotion, his friendship, his love for her is unconditional. At 17, almost 18, I don't think she knows yet how rare it is to have a friend she can always count on to pull her to her feet. I want to caution her not to take this for granted.
But lessons like that must be learned rather than told.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Ungrateful


Sometimes I read something and it bugs me that people seem ungrateful for their great opportunities.
The other day, a woman on my Yahoo writing group sent an email complaining about all the cities she has to go to and the hotels she has to stay in while she is promoting her new book. I felt truly bad for her, which is why I sent back an email that said, "Ummm. I'd take it."
I would. I'd love to wake up and be disoriented, wondering where I need to speak today, convincing readers to buy my published book. Of course, I haven't sold a book yet, so that's not going to be me any time soon.
I dream of living in France and torture myself by reading the blogs of Americans who are happily settled there. So when one of them complains that she can't find a good donut in Paris, I'm not very sympathetic. Donut? Come on. You're surrounded with the best pastries ever. I suppose if I eventually move, I will miss American things and probably complain about them.
Then it struck me that I am ungrateful in a different way.
I have a husband who does housework and laundry, without expecting much in return. Most women would be thrilled to have a husband like this, and I am, but still find myself whining about some things.
I won't go into details about the sheets and the upside down mattress pad (yes, the mattress pad was on the bottom of the mattress rather than protecting the top of the mattress), but the missing toothbrush is one I can share.
When I came home from work on Friday, the house smelled like bleach and cleaning products. He had cleaned the bathroom. "Thanks!" I said, enthusiastically then forgot about it.
That evening, I was preparing to go teach another class. In the bathroom, I searched for my toothbrush. It was gone. I called Earl who was at work.
"What did it look like?" he asked, alerting my suspicions.
"Was it kind of ratty looking?" he asked, building his case.
"Just tell me," I said.
Since Tucker has been sick, he decided the toothbrushes should be boiled. But these are not his mother's toothbrushes. The cheap plastic melted when he tried to boil mine. So, he threw it away and didn't think about it again.
"I thought it was one of the kids'," he said.
Nevertheless, I was out a toothbrush and I taught until 10 so wouldn't have another chance to buy a new toothbrush until the next day. Ick!!!
So that is me, complaining about my husband cleaning the bathroom and melting my toothbrush when most women would be eternally grateful that their husbands cleaned anything.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Bloomer Injury


I'm sitting here with a hot pack on my lower back which hurts whenever I stand up. The pain hit me in the middle of the night, approximately 2:37 a.m. when I got up with my youngest son to get him ibuprofen and Sudafed for his virus.
Within minutes I had diagnosed my lower back pain -- bloomer injury.
In my spare time, I've been helping with costumes for the fall play Little Women. Mostly I've had to take in pants, sew ribbons on collars and put velcro in place of buttons for quick changes. Then came the challenge. The four daughters in the play must have bloomers. Never mind that no one will ever see the bloomers. They help make the characters feel more authentic.
I was given an assortment of sheer white material and used bed sheets to cut bloomers from. So Wednesday morning, on my day off, I was bent over the table trying to cut around the pattern with dull scissors. My husband wandered out of bed and pushed me aside. He took over the cutting.
I moved to the armchair and the coffee table where my sewing machine was set up. I had not seen the sewing machine since we moved. As a matter of fact, this is the old sewing machine and I know that I have a newer one somewhere that I inherited from Earl's mom, but we can't find it. After two years of not running, the machine is complying, although an electrical short somewhere causes the needle not to move at all while I have my foot holding down the pedal then it will suddenly race. It's a little temperamental.
I completed one pair of bloomers while Earl cut out another pattern (winning big husband points).
Then I went about my day, grading papers, shopping at the thrift store for more costume needs, studying algebra with my 13-year-old. I was blissfully ignorant of the pending bloomer injury that had already taken place but was worming its way into my muscles.
Just as I diagnosed myself, I am also in charge of treatment. Heat. Cancelled run this morning and even called off trip to work out at the Y. I thought about going and if a weight machine hurt my back then I would stop, but since I didn't recognize the bloomer injury when it occurred, I might not recognize that a weight machine was exacerbating the problem. So I'm staying home, grading papers, and I might move the sewing maching to the dining room table so I can show those bloomers who is boss and finish the other three pairs.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Charming Smile of a Veteran

Today is Veteran's Day here in the U.S. Usually, that doesn't mean much to me, but today, I get the day off.
I haven't spent much of my life thinking about Veterans. Sure, my mother's four brothers fought in World War II or the Korean War, and my father's brother also fought in the Korean War, but my father didn't. My brothers didn't. Now I have a nephew who travels on a U.S. sub to places he can't disclose, and still I don't think much about veterans.
Lately though, they've been showing up in my classes. They add a lot to our discussions. They've seen things most of us never will -- if we're lucky. Most of the veterans in my classes seem to be Marines. I'm not sure why I don't see soldiers who were in the Army, Navy or Air Force, but almost all of the vets are Marines who have fought in Iraq or Afghanistan. Many of them have injuries, although they aren't obvious, like missing a limb.
This summer, Chad waltzed into my class. I try to picture him the way he was in July. He had and still has a beautiful smile. It's obvious that he's used to charming people. A flash of his smile and a knowing look from his big brown eyes.
He's intelligent and honest. He admitted he hadn't bought the books for the class and planned to get through without shelling out the money. Not reading the stories in our anthology doesn't deter him from joining the discussion. He's had a lot of life experiences for a 23-year-old. He's also excellent at BS.
This fall, Chad walked into my English class, the next in the series he has to complete.
"What are you doing here?" I asked, surprised but also delighted to see him.
"All the other classes were full," he winked.
This fall, Chad is still charming, but it has turned a bit. To the rest of the class, he seems full of himself and not serious about working. When I was pairing up students to work together, I told Logan she would work with Chad.
"No." The word burst from Logan.
Logan worked alone and I paired Heidi with him.
"He's good at this stuff, Heidi," I told the Dominican girl who seemed hesitant.
And Chad is good at writing essays. He gets an A most of the time.
Part of me wants to give the class a lecture on the way they have judged Chad. "He has seen his friends die and has been injured himself," I want to tell them. But I don't.
Chad seems to get angrier in class. He's mad at his classmates. He peppers his language with f-ing everything, language appropriate for marines perhaps, but language he didn't use before. He's mad about the essays we discuss. He turns in a rough draft that is full of "fill-in-the-blank" lines that he will do later.
I spend more time talking to Chad. I call him up after class.
"What's going on?"
He shakes his head. Trying to do too many hours. The medication.
"You seem really angry to me. Have you talked to somebody?"
"The f-ing counselor at the VA, every time I go there all they do is play chess. Nobody talks."
I picture the Doonesbury cartoon where the vets are playing chess with the counselor.
I give Chad the name of a good counselor. She isn't at the VA, but maybe she can help.
After the weekend, I ask if he got in contact with the counselor.
"You didn't give me a number," he says.
I look up the number online during class and give it to him.
"Are you living with your parents?" I ask.
I'm kind of nervous that I might be the only safety net Chad has. I vaguely remember that Chad's parents are professionals of some sort, doctors or attorneys. He talks about a little sister who goes to high school in Columbus.
"No, man, I haven't seen them for awhile," he says.
The most recent essay was about future careers. Chad wants to be a politician, and, the Chad from this summer will be a charming politician, winning votes with his smile. But I worry that Chad may be gone. He got an 80 percent on that paper.
So today, I'm thinking about veterans. Not the ones who march in parades and who served in long ago wars, but boys who come home from Iraq and Afghanistan and try to piece their lives back together. The ones who show up in my classroom and they are fine, until they aren't any more and there is no one there to catch them.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

And the Winner is...

This summer and fall, we've been traipsing around the Eastern United States trying to help Grace figure out which college she should go to. She has been resistent, insisting that she could just stay home, attend Ohio State or Columbus State, cuddle with her cats, keep her nice settled life.
But we've pushed and some swim coaches have pulled. She started out this summer at the University of Maryland for a national swim meet. She stopped in West Virginia and we made a day trip to a small liberal arts college in Ohio. Then we drove five hours to Indiana before she and Earl zoomed to the Adirondacks.
Mostly, I remember the pools and the schools' non-aggressive team names:
She started with the Cardinals and snuck in a pre-season swim:

We spent an afternoon with the Quakers, my alma mater:

We met the Aces at 5:45 a.m. and they gathered at the end of the practice to sing that Taylor Swift song: "Marry me Juliet we'll never have to be alone..."

Then came the Saints:

This weekend, on her long drive home, she called, and said: "You just know when it's right. This is it."
So she has chosen the most expensive college we looked at and one of the hardest to get into. Only 34% of applicants were accepted last year. Hopefully, the eager swim coach will be able to use his pull to get Grace into the college.
She chose the farthest away. A 10-hour drive. We looked at flights. With layovers and driving time, we could get there in 7 1/2 hours flying.
The real selling point though, is she's excited about going. They have a great biology program, they have tons of languages, and the swim coach says she can participate in theater.
Fingers crossed now. Thank you notes in the mail. Interview out of the way and applicant essays nearly finished, we'll wait to see if she gets her first choice. If not, some of her fallback positions aren't bad either and they're a little closer.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

New Dreams


Yesterday, a dream came true. It wasn't a longterm dream. It's just begun in the past year or so and started as a threat to my hard-headed 13-year-old. Tucker is my youngest of three children and he can fight with me from sun up to sun down. I have firmly entered the world of parents who don't have a clue, according to him.
I'm not sure why I was surprised that he is such a difficult teenager. When I was in labor with Tucker, the nurse midwife came in the room to see how much I was dilated. As she checked, down there beneath the sheet, a puzzled look crossed her face.
"I've never seen this before," she said.
"What?" Earl and I both asked worried for our unborn child.
"The baby is shaking his head like he's saying no."
We laughed. That was funny. But it was only a harbinger of things to come.
I remember now that I told people, "I never knew what people meant by 'the terrible twos' until I had Tucker." And that was true. I was bribing him with Menthos to follow my directions. He was stubborn and determined. I reassured myself that he would make a great grown up. He would never be a follower.
And this year, he turned 13. How can I possibly have been surprised that he argues with me constantly? The arguments are always stupid.
Put away your dishes. Pick up your clothes. Eat something healthy. He listens, and he may comply, but not when I ask him. I know enough to walk away and hope he follows through.
Earl is still hoping for immediate compliance. That is not going to happen because then it would look like Tucker was actually doing what we want. He's not willing to give that much.
It's not all bad, of course. Sometimes it reminds so much of his two-year-old self, you know the times when they run ahead, but they keep looking back to make sure Mom is still there following. They want to be independent, but they want to be sure someone is there to keep them safe.
And sometimes, in the middle of the night, I'll hear his voice: "I have a stomachache" or "I have a headache" he'll say as he slides into bed next to us. The stomachache and headache are probably just excuses. He needs to know that he can climb into bed with us and get a hug or some concern. He still needs us.
When Tucker is rude or flip, I take away his phone or I take away his iPod. Removing the phone is like grounding him because he can't communicate to make plans with his friends.
The past few months, I've begun to threaten boarding school. I mutter to my friends that the British have it right, sending their 11-year-olds off to boarding school until they become bearable again.
Then Friday my dream came true. A letter arrived for Tucker that said "Admissions Office" on the return address. A recruiting letter from a high school boarding school that has an elite swim team. They want Tucker! I was doing a little happy dance.
He actually was pleased to receive it. He can brag about it to his friends that the school is recruiting him because of his great swim times.
We don't plan to ship him off, but it's nice to know there's a back-up plan, just in case taking away the iPod and phone stops working.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

They Like Me!


Yesterday after my 10 oclock class finished, I ran into the English Department office to grab some papers from my mailbox. I paused just briefly to talk to the secretary, inquiring whether she'd made it downstairs to get some coffee. She shook her head. Too busy.
"Want me to go get some for you?" I asked. When she said no, I turned to go.
The head of the department came flying out of her office and said, "I want to talk to you."
Teachers scattered as if she'd flung a bowling ball.
Gulp. Me?
I figured one of my students had complained and I'd have to print off emails to show how I'd responded to the student and eventually the chair would back me up like she always does.
Instead, she said, "I want to make you temporary full-time next quarter."
Me? Really?
No benefits, she said, but the starting pay is $5000 more than I'm getting now, plus overtime for every class over 16 hours. I felt like skipping. I felt like dancing. I felt like I'd just downed an espresso.
It's not just the money, even though anything extra helps with Grace preparing to go off to college. I am flattered that the chair thinks I'm a good teacher, that she chose me.
She'd told me before fall quarter that she'd sent an email about extra hours, but I hadn't gotten back in time so she rescinded it. Apparently, she'd continued to think that I was a good candidate for the temporary full-time position, which Spencer says is an oxymoron.
So now, winter quarter looks to be as crazy as fall quarter, maybe worse because I'm already committed to teaching one class at the other college where I teach, but now there's no way my money savvy husband can deny me a trip to France for our 20th anniversary next June. No way, right honey?

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

National Novel Writing Month

Okay, it's November 4, but that doesn't mean it's too late for you to join NaNoWriMo. That's National Novel Writing Month which started Nov. 1 and runs through the 30th.
The idea is to write like crazy and try to reach 50,000 words by the end of the month.
With all of the classes I'm teaching, I've been neglecting my novel. I spend my time grading papers or planning classes then collapse on the couch when I'm finished. Yesterday, I remembered that November means NaNoWriMo and I'd better jump into the fray. For now, I'm energized.
I succeeded at NaNoWriMo once, in 2006. That is the novel that became Trail Mix.
When some people write, they plan each scene and each detail. They have it all laid out before they begin. Not me. I know that if I try to write 50,000 words this month, many of those words will lay on the floor of the cutting room by the time I finish, but some of them will stay. Maybe even half of them. Maybe three-fouths. And if I don't write something then I'll have nothing to edit.
So I took the novel I'm currently working on and wrote down the word count yesterday -- 32,557. Anything I write above that goes into my NaNoWriMo account. Today, I wrote 1100 words so far and it's only 6:30. Of course, I'm getting ready to go to work and then I have parent/teacher conferences and then swim team for Tucker and play practice for Grace, but who knows how many words I might sneak in.
Writing on NaNoWriMo isn't as lonely as writing alone. You can have friends and keep track of how they are doing. There's a bar across the top of the sign on that slowly turns blue as each writer completes more words. It's fun to watch the progression and hope for an all blue bar at the end.
Even if I don't write 50,000 words, hopefully, I'll write more than I would have if I hadn't joined. And, hopefully, they will be better thought out than this blog post.
Let me know if you join and I'll add you to my friends' list on NaNoWrimo.
To join, go to NaNoWriMo.org

Monday, November 02, 2009

Time

People complaining about the number of hours they are working is truly boring, so I won't go into detail. I'll just say I'm teaching a total of 23 credit hours between various colleges, and it's unfortunate that I'm an English teacher so I always have thousands of papers to grade.
Still, as time slips away from me this fall, I found a spare hour yesterday to visit Earl's niece's new baby. She's three and half weeks old now. We stayed away in fear of giving her the flu, which seems to hit when no one is expecting it.
Yesterday, the kids seemed to be healthy with no signs that anyone could be coming down with anything, so we went to see baby Caroline. Here's a picture of her looking thoughtful about the Iraq and Afghanistan situations that you see behind her:

Here's me making one of my baby faces at her. I forgot how heavy little babies get if you keep bouncing them in your arms over and over and over. My biceps are still sore:
We spent time talking about new baby things and then we got a call from Grace who was having severe lower back spasms at swim team, and we talked about big kid things. That reminded me again about time, which passes so quickly, because it seems like only 17 years, I mean days, since Grace was a newborn and we were bouncing her and jumping at her every whimper.
Caroline's mom and dad are doing well, but still kind of apprehensive about the new baby thing. It's not something most people fall into easily. I forget that it takes awhile before you're slinging that baby over your hip while whipping up dinner and talking on the phone.
But they're doing great. Here's a picture as proof, with said niece back to her size 3 self:
I love babies, especially when they're other peoples. I can hold them and coo to them and snuggle them then go home to my vocal and rowdy teenagers. Sometimes I still get some hugs and an occasional snuggle from them too.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Still Growing Up


It's hard to believe that this guy attempting to throw his little brother off Venice's Rialto Bridge is the same tall, silent teenager who strides through our house today.
He is 16 now, and he has brought a lot of joy to my life. He's the kind of kid who thinks deep. When he was in preschool (he went for half a year) he and a buddy tried to drink all of the water in the water fountain. It was one of those white porcelain drinking fountains attached to the wall. They, of course, didn't understand that it was connected to pipes in the wall that would continuously supply water.
He was always the kind of kid who had to stick his hand against the waffle iron, rattle the dog chain, climb a wall that had rocks protruding. He never took our word for anything and he was rarely still.
If he'd gone to school, I'm sure they would have diagnosed him as hyperactive. When he was a baby, he would flip, flip, flip then fall asleep. He could not lie still until he was actually asleep. Now he gets rid of that energy by playing basketball.
As a teenager, he has reined himself in. He's careful about what he says now, always thinking about the kind of impression it might leave. Sometimes he let's his guard down and returns to his old self.
We were going through Wendy's drive through the other day when he said, "Have you ever done fire in the hole?"
"What?" we all asked.
"You know, you go through the drive through, order a drink and then when the window is open, you throw the drink back in and yell 'fire in the hole!' "
We were all laughing by the time he finished. He admitted he had never done it, and I, the mature parent, encouraged him not to do it.
Maybe his deep thinking these days isn't about philosophy or what happens to people when they die or even about his next chess move (which he's taken up again this year). Maybe his brain is full of statistics for fantasy football and basketball plays and remembering which upper classmen will give him a ride to Chipotle for lunch. Someday though, he may come out of his teenage musings and become the kid again who touches and knocks into things just to see what they do.
Maybe someday, as he towers over his classmates at 6-foot, three inches, he'll figure he already stands out so he may as well not try to fit in.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Snippets of Conversation

The past few days, people in my life have been saying things that make me laugh, or sigh.
We were having breakfast before school the other day. The front page of the newspaper had a big article and photo about single-sex schools. One of my kids read the headline out loud.
"Single-gender Middle Schools."
"I smell sit-com," Tucker said, between mouths of Lucky Charms.
I don't know why it cracked me up. Maybe it was the way he held out the word smell and went up on the "com" part. Sometimes I forget they're these real people with lives and opinions of their own. Maybe it's because I can see him as a grown up in a room pitching or rejecting ideas for television and movies. It's good to start the day laughing anyway.
On Friday night, I was teaching, but I checked my text messages during the break. I got one from my best friend, working desperately to save her (doomed) marriage. She'd gone out to dinner with her husband.
"Another nice meal ruined by a side order of blame," she texted. I love the image of them both looking at the menus and the husband saying, "I'll have the rigatoni and she'll take the blame, sauce on the side please."
As a bonus for me, the blame continued the next morning, and my best friend drove four hours to see me yesterday. We had dinner and margaritas then watched a good movie The Bloom Brothers.She's sleeping in the other room now and I'm looking forward to a nice walk downtown for some coffee.
The thing that made me sigh was a Facebook post from Tucker's girlfriend. She's a fairly mature 13-year-old. Not mature like those girls who dress slutty and wear make up. She's modest and smart, but apparently a romantic. Maybe all 13-year-old girls are.
I was gone all day Friday, I mean all day. I taught from 8-11 a.m., made it to a college visit at noon with Grace and her friends. Got back at 5 and then taught from 6-10 p.m. My boys were, of course, left to run wild. They had the day off school.
Tucker had left my computer onto his Facebook page. I'm not certain if this was posted to his girlfriend's page or if it was a conversation they were having, but she had written, if not a poem, some poetical lines.
The gist was that her hand, her fingers, no the spaces between her fingers, felt empty without his fingers there between them.
Well. Holding hands is a very innocent pasttime. I'm trying to remember the thrill of that first time a boy took my hand and held it. All I get is the memory of sweaty palms and then kisses with a lot of drool involved.
And I worry that soon it may not just be fingers that are longing for contact. Other body parts may feel the need for skin time, and, I just can't think about it.
I've already asked Earl to buy a box of condoms and put it in the boys' bathroom.
I prefer it so much when they make me laugh rather than when they make me sigh.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Power of the Hoodie


We have a large Somali community here in Columbus and it seems that many of them end up attending the local community college where I teach. Of course, we also have a number of students from Kenya, the Sudan, and the Middle East. So, it isn't unusual to see female students dressed in traditional Muslim clothes. A few of them wear full burkhas, but most have long dresses and head coverings that frame their faces, kind of like nuns used to wear.
The material of their clothes is light, similar to what they used at home in a much warmer climate, I'm sure.
Well, the temperature in Columbus has taken a dive, with a high of 45 the past few days. Yesterday, as the students were milling around, I saw a couple of women in their traditional long skirts and head coverings with hoodie sweatshirts.
It just made me laugh. It seems the ultimate adaptation, to wear an Aeropostale hoodi mixed with their religiously-required garments.
Maybe there's hope for future generations since they can all embrace the hooded sweatshirt.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Terrific Book


Finally, I finished a great book and I wanted to share it with you instead of complaining about my children and my students.
This book Day After Night by Anita Diamant is set in Palestine just after World War II. I guess I'd never thought about how Jewish people came together to form Israel. I kind of pictured governments clearing out the Palestinians and handing the keys over to the Jewish people.
Diamant focuses on a "camp," a "prison" where illegal immigrants (Jews from around Europe) were taken when they arrived in Israel. These people, many of whom had been held in concentration camps, were kept inside barbed wire fences with British guards watching over them. Yes, it gave them flashbacks to the concentration camps.
Diamant creates some great characters to show us the different experiences of Jewish women who were brought together in Israel.
Leonie, who was French, hid a guilty secret that she passed for a non-Jew and worked as a prostitute. Is that a statement about the French surrendering, I wonder?
Zorah, from Poland, had been in a concentration camp. She was so angry she vowed never to forget. She couldn't feel grateful that she had survived, but she couldn't give up on her life because others had sacrificed for her to survive.
Tedi was from Amsterdam and her parents sent her to a farm because she could pass for non-Jew. She was raped repeatedly by the son, and when she finally complained to the mother, the Nazis arrived the next day to take her. She came to the concentration camp able to smell people's emotions. She said most everyone smelled of shame and guilty.
Shayndel was a Polish freedom fighter who saw her friends die.
The cook at the camp had a different perspective, kind of disrepecting the Jews who had "allowed" themselves to be imprisoned and murdered, as if she would have fought harder had it been her.
It sounds grim, and there are many heartbreaking stories, but in the end the hope of continuing life wins over the despair of the Holocaust.

Gratitude


"I'm out of chocolate chips," I told my best friend on the phone at 8:05 a.m. as I pushed the shopping cart through Kroger.
"How does one know that at this hour of the morning?" she asked.
"Oh, I made cookies this morning to put in the kids' lunches," I said.
And I didn't think it was weird that I got up at 5 on my day off(Columbus Day), went for a run and baked chocolate chip, peanut butter cookies before 7 a.m.
And my kids didn't think it was anything special.
I don't expect them to be grateful. I'm not one of those parents who thinks those kids should see the sacrifices I'm making for them like some parents (fathers) are.
There was an elevated level of grumpiness among the kids. Some "Shut ups" and some "OMGs." I breathed a sigh of relief after I dumped them at school on my way to the grocery.
The youngest is without his cell phone. I confiscated it yesterday for his belligerence toward me. Belligerence being the opposite of gratefulness where teenagers are concerned.
On Sunday, he said a friend had asked him to go to a movie. We dropped them off for the 3:15 show. He called at 5:30 and asked me to come pick them up.
"I don't have a car," I told him.
Grace had a car at swim team and Earl drove the other car to work.
Even though the logic of me not having a car and not being able to pick him up seemed clear, he argued with me for five minutes about picking him up.
If I was a good parent, I probably would have built a car and gone to get him.
I refrained from pointing out that perhaps the friend who invited him should provide a ride one way.
So, I said he should walk home. It's about two miles and they get off the busy roads pretty quickly.
"Whatever" was his parting word.
When I called to check on his progress, he had turned his phone off.
I called the mother of one of the boys with him. She had talked to her son and they were walking. She was at the grocery and had declined to give them a ride as well.
When Tucker walked through the door, he was ready to continue the phone argument. I held out my hand and took the phone.
"You should have planned better," he yelled.
"A week," I said, holding up the phone.
And last night, when he offered to make me a cup of hot chocolate, I knew he wasn't grateful for the valuable life lesson, but was trying to get his phone back.
So, we mothers will continue to push heavy grocery carts without expecting thanks. We'll continue baking cookies and packing lunches.
Someday, even without the threat of cell phone confiscation, they may say, "Hey, Mom. Thanks." Here's the recipe in case you want to make them for your own teenagers.

Chocolate Chip, Peanut Butter Cookies
Preheat oven to 375 degrees
Cream together 1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
Add 1 beaten egg
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon of vanilla
Mix well.
Add 1 3/4 cup of flour
1 tsp. soda
1/2 tsp. salt
Mix well. Add a bag of chocolate chips.
Shape into balls, roll in sugar.
Bake for 8-10 minutes.

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