Saturday, July 31, 2010

5 Activities I Love (100 Loves Post #1)

My five are simple. Like any true introvert, I recharge by being alone or with my close circle. My first five things are a peek into my calm--the things that keep me sane and help me to have a job that's decidedly demanding. There's peace in simplicity for me.

Crocheting is definitely on my list. Though I'm not a regular crocheter--I tend to work in spurts before holidays and occasions when I want to make gifts, it makes me so happy. I get lost in the rhythm of loops. I find I'm drawn to crocheting when I'm stressed. It, like writing (which I am just realizing didn't make the list... maybe because it is the list?) allows me to reset back to a mid line after a day of highs and lows. A night spent crocheting feels like a night spent relaxing--but there's also an end product, evidence of something done. I find my motivation is entirely connected to whether or not the item I'm making is a gift for someone I know and love (if it's not, no motivation) and I also find that without any effort, I spend the time I'm working on the project thinking about that person and what they mean to me. By the time I finish I have a product which reflects this in a very tangible way.

Sitting by a river is wordless prayer, as far as I'm concerned. I've been sitting in wonder by the American River in Northern California since I was old enough to be out of my Mom's sight. When I was a kid, I'd sit down there and sing--my voice lost in the scream of water against rock. I spent hours as a teen alone on a rock with my feet in the numbing cold. To me, a river inspires awe and serenity at the same time. There's nothing I can think of in my life that I wouldn't feel better about after some time alone by the river. The clean, muddy smells, the dance of currents across granite slabs, the sparkle of quartz and fools' gold... these things are as familiar to me as my own skin.

Another love of mine is getting lost in a good book. Not all books are good books, and what constitutes a good one is kind of nebulous anyway (says the English teacher). I'm hard-pressed to define what "good" means, but I know it when it hits me because I can't put the book down. Hours melt away. When I was a kid, my parents had to come in and take the likes of The Babysitters' Club, The Cat Who... and Anne of Green Gables books away from me at night or I wouldn't remember to sleep. It's a rare treat when I can lose time like that now, and it isn't something I can plan which makes it all the more special. Of course now it includes my Kindle, which has sparked a new excitement about reading for me. The ease with which I can acquire new books means I am devouring books fast like my thirteen year old self again.

It still surprises me, but I find joy in cooking dinner now as often as anything else. I've always enjoyed cooking, especially baking, but I find that our efforts to redefine our eating habits in light of E's food allergies and the reading I've been doing over the past year have resulted in a different attitude about preparing meals. Where dinner before was a "open a can of Cream of Mushroom and apply it to some meat" kind of ordeal (not that there's anything wrong with the taste or dependability of my beloved C.O.M., mind you, but it ain't the healthiest), it has now become an exercise in exploring new veggies, discovering ways to flavor naturally (herbs, onions, peppers) and educating ourselves about where our food comes from and why it tastes the way it does. Where before I'd jump at the chance to eat out as often as possible, there are definitely nights now when I would rather be at home--preparing foods I know are healthy and cooked well. I'm not saying that we don't eat out or that we don't eat poorly from time to time, but I think about food differently and I enjoy my time in the kitchen each night. I like thinking about what to make, how the puzzle of fresh things can fit together frugally and tastefully. It makes me happy to feed my family something I've made with my own hands.

Being an audience for E is my final (and dare I say, most important) activity. I'm going to brag on him a little, so indulge me. E is one of the most charming, funny, intelligent people I know. It's a good combo and he can really make me laugh. As is the way with all long-term relationships, you tend to show more of the fabulous side of yourself to people you're less comfortable with (I'm speaking about us both--and really us all, universally).. So when E is really "on" with me, I enjoy the heck out of it. I tease him mercilessly about his charm and smile (especially when it comes to the older ladies... look out, they're the demographic that responds best to him...) but all he has to do is flash that same smile at me and I'm wrapped right around his finger. E was one of my first smart-funny peers, and I have always felt encouraged to "step up" to his level in order to keep up with him. My favorite thing in the entire world is to banter with E. It makes me feel intelligent, and valued, and loved.

This fall I'll be writing about 100 Things I Love, a little bit at a time (95 to go!). Join in on the fun by commenting here, tweeting with #100Loves, or by posting on your blog and linking up.

What are 5 activities that you love?

Friday, July 30, 2010

Sometimes it just feels like you're the last sunshine.

Last night

Henry: (sulking, won't go to bed, kind of sad for no reason)

Me: C'mere, bud. (I sing "You are my sunshine," cuddle him a bit)

Henry: (sighs) Mom, am I your first sunshine?

Me: Sure bud. Addie too.

Henry: Okay, but I'm your first, right? Just me? She's your second?

Me: (making sure Ad's not listening, wanting him to just go to bed) Yeah... you're my first.

Henry: Good, 'cause you're my girl.  (trots off to bed)

One hour later...

Henry: (sobs, hysterical)

Me: What on earth is wrong?

Henry: I just don't know.  I'm just so sad.  It feels like I'm your last sunshine!

Six word Fridays: Perfection

Tough to be it, or not.

Most days I'm stuck between those, 
being hard on myself for minutiae
while nobody else sees the point.

Like now, the meter is awkward...
but who really gives a fig?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

New series: 100 Things I Love

This weekend I'm starting a new series on {alis grave nil}: 100 Things I Love. I'll work my way through 100 things that I love (and love to talk about, duh) and hopefully get to know some of you a little bit better by learning what kinds of things you dig. Simple, right?

So how does it work?

Each week I'll post and tweet a topic for the upcoming Saturday. Your five favorite ________s, or your ten favorite ___________. We'll keep going until we get to 100.

You can take the prompt and run with it however you would like--make a bullet list or write a longer post, or choose one of the favorites to explore in greater detail--no rules! No expectations, just good ol' bloggy fun and commenting. If you tweet a link, be sure to include the hashtag #100Loves. You can comment your thoughts on my post for the week or write on your own blog and leave a link to your post so we can see what rocks your world.

I'm looking forward to getting to know you better.

Want to grab a button and play along? Here you go:

Take me to the posts!

100Loves Post #1: Five Activities You Love (for Saturday, 7/31)

The day is yours to spend as you please. You can spend it alone or in the company of others. If the world was your oyster, what would you do? What five things would be on your must-do list?

Alright bloggy friends, start thinkin'. I'll see you Saturday for our first post! I'll post mine then and I'd love to hear yours then too.


One I've referenced before, but I got a bug about it today and wanted to look it up again:
This is what rituals are for. We do spiritual ceremonies as human beings in order to create a safe resting place for our most complicated feelings of joy or trauma, so that we don’t have to haul those feelings around with us forever, weighing us down. We all need such places of ritual safekeeping... And I do believe that if your culture or tradition doesn’t have the specific ritual you’re craving, then you are absolutely permitted to make up a ceremony of your own devising, fixing your own broken-down emotional systems with all the do-it-yourself resourcefulness of a generous plumber/poet. If you bring the right earnestness to your homemade ceremony, God will provide the grace. And that is why we need God.
-Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Back to School Supplies

How is it Wednesday already?  I'm telling you, the days are flying right now.  Flying.  I can hear the school bells ringing in the not-too-distant future and I'm starting to get both excited and nervous.  Sounds like another new school year...

I was going to do a post with pictures of all the new supplies I've been stacking up for school... but my camera battery is dead, as is my iPhone... so that bit of fabulousness will have to wait, but I can share with you that I have stacks and stacks of markers, white glue, Kleenex, whiteboard erasers, and posters from the deYoung all piled on my bookshelf to take to work.  I'm really counting on some generous donations from parents of things like paper and print cartridges again this year... there's no way I'm going to be able to afford everything I need for my classroom.  Dear Recession, please end.  Love, Everyone involved with public education.

But let's talk about something more serious than that.  Me and my clothing.

I've been picking up school clothes and shoes for the past few weeks as well.  My dress-for-school theory of the last few years has consisted of well-made dress pants and jeans from Express (home of the comfiest size 8 money can buy) with trendy, cheaptastic tops from the likes of Kohl's or Forever 21.  That way I can wear the same pants for several years but I still feel like I can buy a few new duds before school starts.  I figure if I'm going to spend money on things that are trendy, it better not be a lot since I'll be sick of them by next year.  Anyhoo, I happened on some tops at TJ Maxx while I was visiting the in-laws, and while I was there I managed to score a pair of $7 (clearance) snakeskin wedges.  Whoo to the hoo.  Shoes are something I'm serious about.  Last week as we were suit shopping for E I also found this pair of yellow Kenneth Cole platforms that basically just made my life.  I'm smitten.  Can't you just picture them with red toes a-peepin'? They're currently on display on my dresser, all lined up as back-to-school shoes should be.

You do that too, right?  Line up all your new school stuff like a diorama so you can admire it for the entire month before school starts?  I started when I was about Roo's age and I have to say I still do it sometimes.

I've developed an obsession in the midst of my efforts to be healthy, frugal, and a little more earth friendly. I have an unhealthy love of reusable water bottles (I want to buy them all the time!  I spend hours checking them out at every store that carries them...) and reusable lunch boxes.  I stopped buying bottled water mid-year last year to save money and I can say I don't miss it anymore.  It takes a little bit more planning to bring water with us when we go somewhere (and I have a Brita in my classroom fridge for tea and drinking water), but I'm sure I've saved money and waste.  (Of course we buy/ drink bottled water if we need it, but just not having it at home anymore has been HUGE.)

Bringing my lunch last year was also a really good money-saver and I think it had a lot to do with the change in my eating habits.  Plus if we're being honest, who wants to wait in line with teenagers to buy grade D beef tacos anyway?  So seriously, this little cutie was too good to pass up when I saw it at Home Goods.  It looks like a little purse!  And the color palate... I bought it before the shoes, but it totally goes... so I'm convinced the color scheme of the year is going to be a 70's-chic mustard yellow/brown/baby food-green/orange thing.  I'm more than a little bit excited about my lunch box.  Yay!

I'm not exactly ready to give up my summer yet, but new school supplies, shoes, and a new lunchbox make it a little bit more bearable.  If the #1 reason I became a teacher is summers off, then the #2 reason I became a teacher is Back to School shopping. (Followed closely by #3: writing on the white board.... we all have to have dreams.)

A third-grader at heart

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


I was kidnapped by aliens today. They're crafty, those aliens. They didn't just take me like some ordinary kidnapper. They invaded my iPhone first and set the alarm for the ungodly hour of 6:30 AM. They possessed my body and marched it through the motions of putting on sweatpants and brushing teeth. Then they made me drive to their mother ship and lay down in a tan vinyl chair as they shined a bright light right into my cornea.

These aliens looked friendly enough--to someone who doesn't know better. But I saw past their pseudo-human disguises of caked mascara and highlighted hair. I saw them for their truth, and it was an ugly, ugly truth.

They pried my mouth open with a wedge, then they asked me questions I was physically incapable of answering. All I managed was a poor "Uh wuuth uuhhh uhh aaah ahhhh..." They poured water on my teeth, only to suck it out again with some sort of tube (one that, I might add, they jammed down my throat "accidentally" from time to time). They poked me with needles...I was numb to my eyebrows. They pulled my mouth so hard I thought my nostril might dislocate. Then it got really bad. The aliens drilled holes in my teeth. The sound was unbearable, like screeching cats. The faint taste of burnt tooth caked my tongue, which was held hostage by a pair of uncompromising cotton rolls.

These aliens then filled the holes they drilled, sat me up, and pushed me back out into the world, stunned. It's a wonder I lived to tell the story. One of the aliens even said it was her first week on the job.

Lord help me.

On an unrelated note, thanks for all your kind words about yesterday's post. I'm truly okay, but I think I needed to talk about it to deal with the weight of the situation, especially in light of my past miscarriage. I had been feeling like nobody was reading anything I wrote anymore, so a happy consequence was reconnecting with lots of people who give a flying fig about what's going on in our lives. Thank you. It always means to me than you know when I hear from you. :)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Girl problems

It's more of a challenge for me to write about things that have to do with my body, oddly enough. I don't think it's because I'm embarrassed if you know that my insides are not perfect, but I get way more worried I'm going to offend someone or gross somebody out with my physicality more so than if I, say, just spew feelings all over the page like emotional vomit. Anyone who knows me well knows I'm such a prude. So if you want to find your way to the nearest exit, I totally understand. Nothing graphic here, but you just might not want to read this chapter. And if that's the case, we coo.

As I posted from home before I left for E's parents' house, I was having major pain related to my period. My cycle was also extra long. Now it's hard for me to know exactly what "normal" feels like when it comes to these things, because one's sense of "normal" is only just that--her own. So if we're comparing "normals," mine has always been shitty. I was at my mom and aunts' Christmas craft fair the first time I got cramps as a teen, and thought I was going to DIE. It has always been like that. Basically it's been one long string of cramping, joined together with a cycle that's never quite been predictable, or as I complained from my pain last week--short.

So I can't say it was a total shocker when my cycle went beyond 50 days. No alarms went off. I was just annoyed. It's been getting longer for almost six months and I just figured it was more of the same weirdness. I don't react well to any kind of regulating medication--BC has always given me the pukes and when I (idiotically) chose a Depo shot in the early 2000's, I had my period for six straight months. You read that right. Six. Straight. Months. OF PERIOD. Girl FAIL. (My doctor's comment? "Wow, that's ONE way to prevent pregnancy!")  This long month was just more of my crazy body, I figured.

But the pain was not like crazy-body-P-normal. I couldn't get out of bed all day Sunday, and on Monday when I went up the hill it didn't get much better. The pain changed, too. Some other things happened that I'll leave out, but suffice it to say I wasn't so comfortable or managing it so well. On my MIL's advice, I called the advice nurse. The thing is, I know the guidelines they use to bring you in since I've had to go in before. I knew I was just flirting with the line of concern and my doc probably wouldn't have me go see anyone. I described (in awkward, specific detail) to the nurse everything that was going, on. She wanted to leave a message for the doc/nurse practitioner to call me, and she didn't really have any ideas.

Except that she said I might be miscarrying. Now I know I have my mind together (mostly) but it didn't occur to me that that could have been what was going on. I had a miscarriage before, before Addie. In fact, it was a major, awful, shaping experience in my life. But honestly it didn't occur to me that this could be that again. It hurt, but it didn't feel like that. The nurse suggested I take a home preg test to see if there was any preg hormone. Even just the suggestion of the test that hit me hard--basically because my brain's programmed the way I'm sure many womens' brains are, start period = not pregnant. Taking a test after that had already happened seemed backward even if I understood the reason for it. Even if it wouldn't have been a 15 minute drive to the nearest Wal Mart, even if I wouldn't have had to nervously take a preg test at my in-laws' without my husband there, I wouldn't have wanted to undertake the exercise simply because I know exactly what kind of emotions lurk behind that floodgate if I suddenly learn I was in the middle of total reproductive disaster.

I took the test. Negative. Crisis averted, right? I spent the week playing phone tag with the nurse; meanwhile my symptoms abated and the pain let up, as did my worry. I figured if the nurse really wanted me to come in (my one unanswered question) she would have made a better effort to return my calls. (And truthfully once I wasn't in as much pain I stopped trying to contact her.) I'd just make an appointment to see my regular doc once I was home, post-San Francisco. By the weekend I felt fine.

But today as I scrubbed my way through three loads of dishes, the second nurse finally called back (complicated, I know--the one we left a message for) because she was just trying to make sure I'm not "out there bleeding to death, waiting for [her] to call [me] back." Gee, thanks lady. If I waited five days, I'd be dead on the ground. And I wasn't. But since it's kind of unsolved, mysterious, I asked her about it. I have a family history of endometriosis and I was also concerned about that. In response to my questions about the cycle length, the pain, the other symptoms, she says (nonchalantly):

"Yeah, you probably miscarried. Probably early after conception."

*heavy sigh* Nothing in my life is different since she uttered that to me over the phone, and yet it is. Or, it might be. Some nurse verbalized it with indifference and now I sit here thinking about it as a possibility.

The thing is I'll never know--maybe that's why it's getting to me. I feel all sorts of things about that statement. This is not the same for me at all as when I knew I was losing a baby, because that was devastating for quite some time. And even that (which was a very difficult thing for me) is not at all comparable to so many tragedies that families experience that I know are beyond anything I can even imagine. I'm definitely okay. But it just burns low in my chest tonight. It calls to mind so much of what I felt in the months after, and it confuses me more than anything--about how I am supposed to feel, or about what I might feel, what I don't feel, what I feel guilty for not feeling, if that even makes sense. I know that I never get to know, and I hate that. We weren't being stupid--of course I know there's always a chance of conception even when you're careful--but there was no oops. So if it happened, it happened, and it wasn't intentional and we didn't know... but you know that to me a baby is a baby and even the thought of one... it's just so complicated.

This is not a feel sorry for me post either. Even if I did miscarry (of which there is no proof), I know I'm another "normal," and if I was preg, I didn't know. This wouldn't be like before. I'm not sad. I'm just a little bit stirred up, emotionally. Confused. It brings to mind many things that I thought I was done thinking about. Writing about it is just a part of how I process anything, I suppose. I'm still definitely in the processing phase and I don't have any kind of conclusion. And knowing that it might be something else entirely bothers me as well. I'm going to go see my regular doc--I want to make sure there isn't another pressing physical concern they've missed before.

Again, I'm physically fine and I'm emotionally okay, I'm just laden with ponderous thought. Maybe this is a lesson in not having answers.

I've got a lot on my mind.

I have, rather. Whatevs.

I have a to-do list a mile long.  I have a blog post that's been percolatin' for a while but I'm not sure how to write it or if I should write it.  Make that two posts I'm not sure how to write but I want to write.  Maybe.  Unrelated: I'm actively searching through graduate degree programs (online or low-residency) and I have a lot to think about there.  I've got retirement and saving and getting-out-of-debt on the brain.  I'm thinking about salary advancement and investing in my own education and time management.  I have a cleaner kitchen than when I started things up this morning, but not much cleaner.  I'm wishing my toes would just magically pedicure themselves without any effort on my part.  I want to go read but I'm afraid that habit went the way of the dinosaur as soon as I figured out I've got one Christmas vacation and one Easter break left of a summer (three weeks).

I'm happy I was home today, but I need about a week here by myself so I can just get crap done.

Oh, and tomorrow morning at 8:00 AM I have to get some fillings done.  Fan-freaking-tastic.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

And another summer book review:

I've been a reading monster this summer. Not since the summers of Burney Falls camping trips with Mom, Dad and Lis have I read so many books in one season. I credit this to two specific things:  the age of my kids and their relative ease, and my Kindle which makes it oh-so-easy to buy a new book right away when I finish the one before.  Consequently, I'm having one of the best summers ever.  And I say this with the fresh image of my decimated garden in my head--my beloved garden that I've worked on all summer--which was destroyed this weekend by loveable Hurley dog when we left town for one night.  *sigh*  Oh well.

On to a book review:

My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud'homme

Remember how much I didn't love reading Julie and Julia, Julie Powell's book?  As you remember, I really wanted to.  But I couldn't.  Thankfully the opposite was true of My Life In France, which is culled from Julia and Paul Child's letters and writings from their time in France and Norway.  I (capital letters) LOVED IT.  I (big puffy appliqued heard) LOVED IT.  Loved.  All of the French dishes that seemed scary and weird in Julie Powell's book seemed natural and delicious in Julia Child's book.  The tone of the book was lightearted and it gave a peek into Ms. Child's personality, relationship with her husband, and France.

Oh, France.  I've wanted to visit you since my awkward high school French I days (when dad declared unceremoniously--and humourously) that France was "closed."  Today I visited your Impressionist painters' masterpieces, on loan from the rennovating Musee D'Orsay, at the de Young museum in San Francisco.  I studied your language, your dance, your art.  *sigh*  It's not in the cards for me to go anytime soon, but reading about your cooking, your people, your quaint markets... it made me a little envious of those who have been.

I didn't necessarily have any interest in French Cooking before or as a result of reading Julie Powell's book.  I can't say that I feel inspired now to crack open MtAoFC either, but My Life in France touched the part of my heart that has a fondness for cooking and for learning new things.  I love that Julia Child came to French Cooking late in life.  I love that she had to fight to earn the recognition and respect she eventually received.  This was a great book.

My recommendation: read it.  It's a good one.  I'd maybe venture as far as to say great.

P.S. E just finished reading The Art of Racing in the Rain and he loved it just as much as I did!

Thursday, July 22, 2010


...I miss E.'s stuck in my head and I can't get it out.
...Henry is really funny when he sings it.* makes me laugh even though it's not really that funny.
...everbody needs a laugh.'s IS that funny, especially because it's so lame.  Which makes it awesome.'s Thursday.
...I enjoy "circling and circling and circling and circling and circling and circling and circle some more..."

Please enjoy Will Ferrel's "Bat Fight":

*E reminds me that people will misunderstand.  Henry DOES NOT watch this video.  It is not appropriate for kids. He just hears me and E singing the song to each other so he copies that.  Okay, phew.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


I felt the first thread pop today: the inevitable, slow undoing of the daughter-mother seam. Suddenly Roo is all eye-rolls and annoyance at me, while she's sweetness and light to the rest of the world. She didn't step far, but she placed a grain of independence to tip the scale against what we've shared for the last (almost) eight years. It stung.

As much as I want her to plant her feet confident and fearless in the world, I miss my baby Roo. I wish I could call her infant body back for one quiet night of swaying blissfully in the rocking chair. I like this new person who lives with me, I'm proud of her beyond words, but I didn't get long enough with that creased-leg ball of joy.

Mom, I don't want to talk to you right now, okay? portents awkward, forced conversations to come. The irascible what? grunted over her shoulder at my call forebodes greater teenage annoyance. It's coming, I accept it. But parenting is so complicated.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Two more summer book reviews: Julie and Racing

More food books? I know. I'm on a roll. Or a baguette, maybe. (BTW, I just started reading Julia Child's My Life in France, and once I've finished it, that make FOUR food-related books this summer.) I promise the second review below is NOT a food book. Can't be too predictable, now.

Julie and Julia, by Julie Powell

I really wanted to like this book. I really wanted to like Julie. I loved the film--I found it to be completely charming and though I loved Meryl Streep as Julia Child, I even will admit to finding Amy Adams kind of cute as Julie Powell. I now see that this was the result of carrying over my Junebug and Enchanted affection for Ms. Adams into my perception of a role that didn't really warrant it. Or I guess I should rephrase. I think I'll still always have a fondness for the movie. But for once the book was not as good as the film.

Like I said, I wanted to love it. I liked it; I'm glad I've read it. I wouldn't read it again, though, nor would I suggest it to anyone. For one it really showed me that a lot of what works in blog land does not work in memoir land. It could have worked, but she needed a better editor. Not only did I find some of her descriptions a little tedious, it didn't seem like there was any kind of arc to the story. At the beginning of the novel, she was complaining about her life, unsure if she'd finish the project, and kind of mean to her husband. At the end of the novel, she was complaining about her life, unsure if she'd finish the project, and kind of mean to her husband. I just wished it went somewhere.  I didn't mind her prolific use of the F word or the almost near constant (and "off" in some untenable way) references to food and its connection to sex.  But I just didn't like Julie.  I think it's important to identify in some way with one's protagonist, and I couldn't make the connection.

J&J had lots of potential, but I think if you're interested in the story, you're better off doing a google search for Julie Powell's original blog and then reading that. Something was lost for me in the book. Another note: the haphazardly inserted vignettes of Paul and Julia seemed odd, distracting, and poorly done. They didn't really add anything and I wished they weren't there.

My recommendation: Pass. (I'm only about 30 pages in to My Life In France by Julia Child and it's already 400% better.)

The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein

I loved this book. Loved, loved, loved. It's simple. It's predictable. But it's funny and (swear to Pete) it made me look at my dog differently. The narrator of TAORITR is Enzo, a dog. He's a sentient dog, though he lacks the ability to let his humans know he understands their every word. He watches TV. He plays thoughtfully with children. He waxes philosophic about race car driving and life. Now I don't give one bean about racing, but this book kept me on a tight enough leash that I followed right along, no problem.

Enzo's narration is the star of the book. But even though his humans' storyline was a bit predictable and maudlin, I didn't mind it. I found the idea of dog as narrator so captivating, so close to my heart as one who's owned (and loved, and anthropomorphized) dogs, that I snuggled right down into it and let myself enjoy. It was a comfy book to read and the perfect thing for my day in bed when I didn't feel so hot.

I like books like this. Not all books can be philosophical literature.  Not all books can examine the darker intricacies of human existence--or at least that's not the only thing I want to sit and read all the time--it can't all be Crime and Punishment, you know? Sometimes you need a feel-good book, so you reach for Tuesdays with Morrie or your well-worn copy of The Thorn Birds or The Art of Racing in the Rain. And after you cry a little and sigh a little and race through the ending so you can see how it all wraps up, you go and hug your dog a little tighter because you know he just gets it and he just gets you and you just feel good.

My recommendation: Curl up with puppy (alternately: cat), then read. Cry. Hug. Rejoice.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


There's a cramp in the palm of my left hand. Been there about two days. No idea why.

There's also a cramp in my left shin. Too much with the "running like a free spirit" on the (teeny) hills of Yosemite, too much with the "I'm totally awesomesauce" running immediately upon my return. Running which came to a screeching halt this week due to the pain I was experiencing. Cramp isn't really even accurate as a descriptor except that it fits my theme here. We're talking more of ripping away from bone kind of shredding feeling. Same kind of thing that happened to me last year when I upped my mileage--it just happened at a greater number of miles this time. Don't worry, I'm icing/resting/stretching and I already feel an improvement. Taking it easy, not being a nerd about pushing myself too hard.

But some major grade A cramping is coming at me courtesy of one angry ute (that's right people, ute--I know male readers will abandon ship here for the night) that has decided inexplicably (but predictably) for five months to increase its cycle length by exactly three days an iteration, and now in July decides to add on an additional ten days to the longest its ever been. What.The.HELL, body? Like being a girl wasn't bad enough, you had to go and make it worse by making this an almost one-for-every-two-normal person-cycle. Ten days worse, to be exact. FIFTY NINE DAMN DAYS? That's not a cycle, it's a joke. (Hopefully all the "normal" 28 days peeps will indulge me in my whining here.)

So I sit around and wait, wondering like some kind of dopey thirteen year old that can't predict her cycle yet. Every day that passes and I don't get my monthly visitor is a day of stress and of not being able to wear white pants (because really, who wants to be looking springy and fun on the day that magical gift arrives?) and I know the added length adds more to the pile of suck that's awaiting me when AF finally does makes an appearance. We all know that a body isn't meant to go that long without some kind of release. Bad, bad, bad times today, like a vice on my midsection. So bad that I didn't move all day, just lots of rolling around in bed, groaning, demanding things from my children and husband. I wish I was a southern belle, because moaning things down the stairs of one's plantation home in a lazy feminine drawl seems somehow more romantic than shouting "c'mere, Roo" from one's foil-windowed track home-bedroom in suburbia.

But one good thing that came out of this cramptastic day was that I finished both books I was reading. I'll post a review tomorrow, hopefully. I wrapped up Julie and Julia and The Art of Racing in the Rain. I enjoyed the latter more than J&J, for reasons I'll discuss tomorrow, but I have to say that even lounging in bed all day with a book that's just so-so is pretty full of awesome. If I let myself think about it, I realize that in less than a month (though I refuse to count down days) I'll be staring down the teeming hordes again. I'd say it was a day well spent, cramps and all. By tonight I was feeling well enough to do such daring activities as shower (gasp!) and sit on the couch, and I managed a walk that made me feel like I wasn't going to calcify into a monument of pain.

I know this is beating the cramp idea to death, but I fear the fact that I'm leaving with the kiddos to spend a week at my in-laws' will put a cramp in my running schedule. Not quite sure how I'm going to deal, but hopefully it's in some manner that involves maintenance in some form of regular running, walking, and healthy eating. I know, high hopes. I have to admit I'm dragging my heels a little bit because after Yosemite came a week-long conference and now this week away from E :( with the kids and I'm just wanting to dig in and enjoy whatever moments of nothing I have left in this summer vacation. Doing something reminds me that I'm not doing nothing and I start to get whiny. I'm sure it will be a perfectly good time. I'm looking forward to relaxed time with E's parents, too.

I have a lot to do tonight: laundry, packing, browsing amazon for new books for my newly "cleared" Kindle. I plan on doing none of this, of course. There's always tomorrow before I go, right?

Friday, July 16, 2010


Hurley with his hole to China, my feet (which he chastised for being too near his hole).
Crepe myrtle, running dog, Roo in chair.

Warm, shaded evenings are neutral on my skin. No heat, no chill slides across my shoulders. I am the air itself. I extend my aching limbs across the patch of green grass and dusty cement. One degree up or down would register, but I draw in thick, clear oxygen like water through fluttering gills.

Tonight my memory pulls toward missing pairs in the backyard. Two absent crepe myrtle trees. Two mourned dogs. Two lost citrus plants. Yet as I see the ghosts of last summer, young life fills the space, boldly ignorant. Hurley doesn't know his predecessors. Ad and Hank don't feel the echo of an uprooted tree. Life goes on unflinchingly.

And it's that same unflinching progress that's brought some neutrality into our lives. Stability, measured in lumps over the last year. Metered, so we wouldn't take any of it for granted. First the reassembling of our marriage a year ago. Then financial hardship. Joblessness. Uncertainty. Internship. Humble pie served up at a lean Christmas. Opportunity. Perseverance. Finally, a measure of success, a portion of neutrality.

It has been an arduous pair of years--one pair I don't grieve. Last year after E took the bar the first time, I wrote "so this is what normal feels like" yet I still needed to recalibrate my sense of what that was. With E passing the bar, I afforded myself a new sense of normal, of peace. As he prepares to take his place as a new lawyer I get the luxury of homesteading in that vision.

Life is rife with lessons right now. First: one need not dump her entire life in the gutter to change it. Hard work is an equal catalyst to abandonment, though much healthier in the end. Dumping my life, E, my hopes... it didn't fix things as well as commitment did. Second: plans are good and necessary, but life is wild as a puppy in the tall grass.

I'm so thankful, so full of gratitude for the healing and peace that have come into our lives this year. E and I spent so much of our early marriage asking each other "why us?" that I mournfully released ideas about fairness and balance in the universe. I'm not naive enough to look for a pattern of just distribution of hardship anymore, but I am deferential enough to the idea of change to appreciate our good fortune as it comes.

I am so happy there are not words. I feel like I can take a breath of neutral air without fear of the bite of cold or oppression of heat. Just clarity, breath.

Full Circle. Or maybe a complete 180. Or some other cliche.

I know I was pretty complainy on Monday about teaching, but I've had a great week.  This workshop was just what I needed.  I have so many good ideas now and I feel energized to go back to school and advocate for students and programs that need it.

Right now I'm going to soak up some air conditioning and just chill out.  It's been a good, but lengthy week.


Excited.  Little bit.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

You, at five.

You, tanned neck in Mario tee.

Hands an extension of whirligig brain.

Shaking Wiimotes as if life depended.

Amazing what forms learning can take.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Accounting for taste: two book reviews

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

For once I have no idea how I found this book. No search of Amazon, no recommendation from a friend... nothing. Seriously, no idea. I do know that what drew me to it was a sense of connection to the synesthetic nature of the story. It's a story about a girl who can taste feelings. As someone who "feels" colors in numbers, I identified.

It's not an exact match, and it ventures more into magical realism than anything else. The protagonist, Rose, discovers one day in Elementary school that she can taste her mothers' emptiness in her lemon cake. From that point onward she struggles with what is both a gift and (most often) a curse. I don't typically prefer or seek out magical realism, but this grew on me. It was believable enough in other areas that Rose's uniqueness didn't seem out of place.

My favorite thing about this book was the way it was written. Stylistically there was a lot to unpack. That's my favorite kind of book. I do have to admit that about 60 or 70 pages in I still didn't know what the book was going to be about; that may bug some people more than it bugs me. If something is beautiful, I'm more forgiving. I liked the language a lot. It could have had more resolution for me, and it could have been longer, but it was definitely interesting. I'm glad I read it and I keep thinking about it.

My recommendation: A good, quick read for cooks, English teachers, word nerds, book nerds. If you believe there's something more to cooking than a scientific combo of ingredients, you might find yourself caught up in it.

In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan

I've been talking about reading this for a while, and I decided it was time to jump in with both feet. I don't know why, but I get kind of nervous when it comes to anything that might make me feel attacked/guilty/sick. When it comes to food, there's a lot out there and much of it is fear-based or shame-based, neither of which I want to waste my time with. To my relief and great happiness, In Defense of Food was anything but scary, gross, or guilt-inducing. It was much more historical than I thought. I had no idea some of the origins of the current Western diet.

This book was right up my alley. I've been doing well trying to eat cleanly and eat less processed foods. There was a lot of practical information here, as well as some easy to remember quotes that I know I can use to make decisions about food. (In contrast, I tried to read The Zone Diet a while ago and ended up quitting because it was so much of what seemed like pseudo-science--and what Pollan deems "nutritionism"--rather than anything user-friendly. I do not recommend that book.) Pollan's book is no diet. It's just an examination of the history behind things as ubiquitous as twinkies and cheetos, and information.

I like books that present information but don't guilt me into using it. I like that I could read Pollan's book knowing that I wasn't going to be able to reach perfection, but it gave me some great ideas in my continuous journey to make my own eating healthy and to make E's strange diet restrictions more... palatable. Totally wonderful book. I ended up reading large portions of it aloud to E in the car on the way home from Yosemite just because I was so astounded at some of what I was reading (and not in a gross-out way, just in an "I never knew"-way.)

My recommendation: read it and share it with your family. Good stuff here.

Monday, July 12, 2010

On motivation.

I'm in a weird spot with my job. Rather, I've been walking a path that's led me to a weird spot. I'm not happy being a teacher.

I'm not. Don't freak out on me.

Seriously, don't.

I'm really not. I don't want to go back to work. I don't like it. It's not what I thought it would be.* It’s SO hard. It's draining. I think most of the policies of the system are a joke. I don't feel like I work in an environment conducive to actual success as much as success on paper, or perceived success. Purported success. Reported success. Success in pie charts. Numbers and percentages making flavorless berry-shaded pies of empty celebration or brow-furrowed disappointment... telling us nothing about how a kid feels or if they're supported at home. Nothing about whether or not he'll be in college or jail in five years. Nothing about whether or not she sees beauty in a well-crafted kenning. (Shout out to my Beo-nerds.) Nothing about what they'll be in the world. Why does nobody seem to notice that we're NEVER going to reach 100% on the magical fairytale invented scale of standardized testing? That every gain is next year's loss? That every loss is next year's ten point gain? It's neverending, and exhausting.

*Yes, I know you can't really make that complaint after 9 years, but I'm still doing it. Maybe I need to start saying it's not what I hope it can be. Same diff.

Want to know a secret? I'm interested in who, but not in what I teach anymore.

In my own classes, I'm bored. I've been absorbing student apathy through osmosis. (Oh crap, not osmosis--that's water--what's the other one for gas but it's like the same thing? I can never remember it.) I don't even want to listen to me. The thought of having to slog through Hamlet again to the tune of seventy annoyed looks just seems like waterboarding. I live for curiosity and I haven't seen much in a while from my blessed pupils. It's not that I don't love Hamlet, it's that I don't like teaching it to people that (as I heard Angie Harmon say this morning on The View, when asked if she wanted anymore children) would rather "light [their] hair on fire and then put it out with an ice pick." It's like working really hard on a gift for someone you love and then having them throw it in the trash.

I do work hard. I do love it. I do love them, though I'd like not to admit it. But it feels like they take a giant crap on most of what I cover, miming their way through class and promptly ignoring everything I say. They could give a rip about Hamlet.

Same goes for Romeo and Juliet. The Stranger. The Sun Also Rises. Animal Dreams. My beloved Animal Dreams. *sigh*

There are some things about my job that change at an iceberg-melting pace. The novels we teach? That's one of them. I love discovering new things to read. I love reading new things. I love talking about the new things I read. Yet I spend every year for talking about a handful of novels I've been reading since high school. It's just so repetitive. I love to talk about writing, specifically how to write. Unfortunately, it seems like nobody's been interested in listening for a few years and I'm losing a battle to the clandestine AP Statistics homework completed at the expense of my instructional hours.

I'm just... bored. Everything about teaching from the first day of school to the annoyed parent emails to the poorly-followed directions is just so cyclical. I'm bored and I'm not interested in playing the uphill battle game anymore. I'm not interested in even listening to myself talk anymore because it seems like it's to no avail.

I realize this is an annoyingly First World kind of problem. "I hate my stable, well-paying job." It goes right along with "my iPhone broke" and "Whole Foods ran out of red quinoa." But c'est la vie de PDawg. I got 99 problems and... forget it.

I got my AP scores from this year and they were DISMAL. Of course I know that responsibility is not on my shoulders alone--and I can't make anyone care that doesn't--but it seemed like it was such a joke to most of them this year. I knew when I walked out of the testing room that most of them didn't WANT it. When I took that test, I WANTED it. Bad. I got my 5 because I craved it so badly. How do I get them there?

I heard this somewhere the other day: I can't make you a great writer, but I can make you a better one. (At least I think it was said about writing. Might have been said about something entirely different, but it works.) So true. There are times when I wish I didn't have to accept the limitations that some students bring to my class, but they are a reality. I know that's earth-shattering for those of you who still believe every student is a shining, precious snowflake of infinite potential, but we all have our limits. It's the better part of the equation I'm interested in. Greatness can't be taught. But how to be better can, for sure.

I'm just fed up. I'm tired of being the hardest working one in the room. I'm bored at work.

I'd been thinking about this post all morning, thinking about how disinterested I am in what I do... and the conference I'm attending shed some new light on it. I'm at the AVID Summer Institute this week, learning about strategies to provide access to curriculum and support for college readiness for all students. A speaker at the opening ceremony--himself a member of the first AVID class, graduating 30 years ago--really inspired me. He talked about how one teacher caring about him, seeing potential in him, gave him the motivation to do better. He talked about how much more he was capable of than what was expected of him. He talked about choosing opportunity over what his heart wanted.

He made me realize I need to pull my head out of my behind. He made me remember that I can make a difference, even though I very seldom see the end product. He made me think about how I can make this next year better.

And so begins the annual mid-July excitement about the year to come. The wooden-spike-under-fingernail-esque schoolwide PMS-style shenanigans of May and June have started to fade in my memory, and I'm ready to take on another year, hopefully a little wiser.

If I don't like what I'm teaching, I only have myself to speak to about it. Similarly if I don't like how I do it. I'm not going to overhaul everything, but I am feeling a bit re-energized. I know this week is going to be good motivation for doing what I know how to do, and good learning for doing it better. My job isn't meaningless. It might feel like the faces in the crowd don't give two craps, but it's worth it for the ones who do. Maybe the difference I'm meant to make isn't with the apathetic top level, anyway.

I spent the day scribbling ideas for this fall in a spiral notebook in the ink of a very crisp black pen. Like, crack of an autumn leaf under your foot, crisp.

I'm looking forward to the rest of the week.

Tomorrow: Just for fun, and just because I still like books... summer book review. :)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Yosemite in pictures

If there's one thing I don't like about Yosemite, it's the drive. It's not that long, but it is a terribly boring frolic through the lifeless brown armpit of California. How's that for imagery, huh? It sucks. So as soon as we descend into the valley and see views like this, I'm drooling with anticipation.

Our first day in the park was spent setting up shop. It always takes a while to check in, unpack and fortify our position when it comes to the food storage war against bears, bees, and squirrely squirrels. We always stay in the cabins at Curry Village. I have to say, I enjoy the change in recent years to in-room food storage over parking lot bear boxes. Still I have this fear that if I leave a banana peel in the trash I'm going to open my door at night to find Yogi in the middle of my earth-toned double bed.

We unpacked, we scored a late lunch (about 2:00 PM--imagine my crazies when I don't eat on a regular schedule) and finally started to feel like we'd arrived. That night the entire family was eating at the Mountain Room of the Yosemite Lodge to celebrate Grandpa Ted's birthday and Fathers' Day. Entire family = three tables of seven. 21 of us there the first night.

I've never seen Yosemite like it was this weekend for two reasons: the amount of water in the rivers and falls, and the amount of people there for July 3 and 4th. Holy Pete, it was ridiculous. I wasn't angry about it in an ironic "I'm a tourist but I hate everyone else who is touristy" way, but it was just harder to get around. Generally, crowds don't bother me so much as they're just remarkable. Cars lined the streets from Housekeeping Camp all through Curry and the Village. Every parking lot was full and every road a parking lot. So when we set out to catch the bus to dinner, there was just no way. Nothing was moving on that road, including our beloved hybrid buses. We set out to walk, and made it far enough past the jam to catch a bus from the Awahnee.

The restaurant has a really nice view of Yosemite Falls, which were surging with the anger of Thor more so than they were gently tripping down the hill this year. I ate way too much cheese bread for any human, and we called it an early night.

The next morning (fireworkless-Fourth of July) I woke to my alarm and snuck out of the cabin for the first of two valley floor runs, a short one from Curry around the Mirror Lake bus loop. It was gorgeous.

It took me forever to do this first run because I kept stopping--not because I was tired--because I was blown away by my surroundings even though I've been to Yosemite so many times. Early morning and late evening are beyond words.

Right as I rounded the corner into the Camp Curry parking lot I could see the sun rising over the ledge of Half Dome. I took these photos as stills from my Flip... sorry they're a little blurry.

dorkus majorus, being so happy to breathe fresh air and enjoy the sounds of the rushing river.

I made my way home after a sprint down the final stretch of the loop, which (if you've ever rode a bike up to Happy Isles, you'll know is a long but steady climb) I arrived back in the meadow and back home. Side note: I planned the run to end downhill on purpose. Last year I didn't think about it and made the climb as a new runner and wondered what the heck I was doing. I won't say I was being lazy this year, but it wasn't even a run day on my schedule, and I was running... so yeah, I was being lazy. But it was kinda fun to sprint home.

That afternoon we took the bus to Yosemite Falls. The kids love the rocks that border the trail and I have countless pictures of them climbing these every year with E. I also have countless mosquito bites this week from sitting on the rocks in the shade taking pictures of them.

The falls were breathtaking. Always beautiful, the sheer volume of them this year meant a different experience. The wind and cold at the bottom of the falls meant I couldn't stand on the bridge long. Of course, so did my fear that one of the monkeys would slip past a railing... I kept my death grip on them until we crossed over.

That night was the "big night"--finally all 29 of us were there and all the Aunties (sisters) were serving us dinner. We had our celebratory campfire to mark the 25th anniversary trip. We made smores. We breathed in smoke. And then Roo got a headache... well actually she'd had it all day but in her typical Roo-ness she didn't say anything until it was Vomit City, USA. Back to the cabin we went...

E has been trying to talk me into climbing Half Dome with him (he's never been) for about eight of the last ten years. What seemed awesome when I was fifteen now scares the bejesus out of me... particularly since there have been so many recently publicized deaths at the cables. I know what those cables are like and I was terrified of them before I knew about how people fell there... I'll stop. But you get it. I don't know if we can both go do that now, as I think of everything in terms of what the monkeys would have left if something terrible happens.

Morbid thoughts over.

Instead, E finally ended up getting a bug about hiking to the top of Upper Yosemite Falls. It's about a 3.5 mile hike each way... and the first way is up, up, up... Hutch blogged about doing it a while ago, so I'd been thinking about it too... plus, no cables = WIN. But alas it didn't work out for us to go together on the 4th and by the 5th my window of courage/opportunity/energy had passed. I opted instead for a day at the kiddos' favorite valley location: the Happy Isles Nature Center while he hiked up with his uncle.

On the way to our beloved Nature Center, the kids climbed anything and everything that would allow it.

Once we get to the bus stop at Happy Isles they're like kids at the gate to Disneyland. They led the way up the path.

I'm going to make them take this picture every year for the rest of their lives:

Part of the display is a case of animal poop (true story) and a sound machine that makes all of the animal noises of the park. The machine used to terrify Roo--she thought there was a bear underneath the counter. There's a diorama of stuffed (taxidermal) animals frozen in various choreographic positions. Part of the ritual each year is bending down to see the fish "swimming" eternally in his glass case.

E had a wonderful hike (and if I can get my act together I'm going to edit his pics and video into something... but it's not done yet) and came back to camp tired and hungry. The next morning I had another run scheduled--I mapped it before we left and I thought it was almost five miles. Turns out it was only 4.6, but the perceived increase in speed gave me a total ego boost for the entire day. I didn't mind finding out when I got home that I didn't go as far as I thought.

I ran from Curry towards the exit of the park, along the stretch of forest where I'd seen a giant cinnamon-furred black bear the night before. Naturally, I was all crazy-eyed at the thought I might happen upon him unexpectedly. No incidents to report. The view from Sentinel bridge of both Half Dome and Yosemite Falls was striking, one of those scenes you take in and wish you had someone with whom to share it.

My only company along the run were two of these ladies. They have no fear at all... I stood and watched them for some time.

Tuesday the kids had separate activities--Roo was finally old enough to ride a mule from the Yosemite Stables up the trail. We went to see her off and then did two of Henry's favorite things: ride the bus in the very back seat, and ride his bike.

Roo was ECSTATIC about getting to ride. Her mule's name was Dotty. Can you get any cuter than that?

Just look at that grin. I feel the same way about Yosemite, Ad.