Thursday, May 30, 2013

Hodgepodge

I'm all about whatever is happening five minutes in the future right now. Don't talk to me about anything beyond that, because lalala I am not listening. At least that's what I'm all about for one more day. By this time tomorrow night I will be free, The Mrs. P Show will have shut down for summer hiatus, and I will be getting ready for Nerd Camp 2013, my residency in Palm Springs. But for today, I'm still in the space where nothing gets done unless it's on the calendar.

Nothing.

I had a moment today where I had to be honest with myself about the fact that probably most people don't block out chunks of time and label them "sleep" on their daily calendars. I don't know if I do this because I'm bad at math and I want to make sure I get as close to 8 hours as I can, or if I do it because it isn't likely to happen unless it's scheduled--probably both. I'm pretty sure most people don't have that penciled in. But at 34 I do realize that I'm more like a toddler than not--I need a good night's sleep and plenty of food, or I'm gonna have a tantrum. If it takes putting sleep on my calendar to make that happen, so be it.

This week is another busy one at school. The last one. Yesterday was graduation, which means getting gussied up to go stand on the ramp to the stage and say goodbye to my seniors, one by one. Tear. Of course I wasn't tryna snap pics up there or violate our district's social media policy about posting student pictures online, so here's a selfie. Ta-da.

I'm nothing if not invested in documenting the important moments in my personal eye makeup history.

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I'm looking forward to spending a lot of time with this loser very soon:

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Wait, I'm sorry. Did you see this?

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I'm crazy for cat feet anyway, but GET OUT OF HERE. I'm going to stay home all summer and rub her paws. That's not weird, right?

And while we're speaking of weird, here's something. I was starting to pack for Palm Springs the other night and I came across a mini-bar key from my room at the hotel. I haven't had a mini-bar key since last summer (even though I've had the same room twice). Not since I figured out that the my plan to empty the mini-bar and use it as my personal fridge was foiled because the minibar was approximately the same temperature as the desert. I ended up just having them bring an actual (cold) fridge. So... that means this is a key from last June. Oopsie.  I'll be surreptitiously returning this in a few weeks.

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The universe sent me a few more awesome former students this week. Right when I needed them most. And today was a hectic but lovely day of dancing and laughing with my friends at work, of saying goodbye to one of our colleagues who we adore. There are so many good things in this life, even when it's crazy.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Sorry to disappoint.

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Henry: (Running his finger along a stretch mark on my side) Mom, what did they use when they cut your tummy?

Me: What?

Henry: (Tracing a line across his own stomach) You know, when they cut your tummy so we could come out.

Me: Oh. It's called a scalpel. It's a surgical tool.

Henry: (Excited) IS IT A LASER?

Me: Nope, not a laser, Bud.

Monday, May 27, 2013

And We're Walking... We're Walking...


Wanderlust by Rebecca Solnit

"Moving on foot seems to make it easier to move in time," Rebecca Solnit posits. "The mind wanders from plans to recollections to observations."

I find it fascinating to see what others highlight in the Kindle version of books, so I leave that feature turned on while I'm reading. Twelve people, it turns out, found that quote enlightening in chapter one. Solnit's cogent observations about walking lasted well into this book, however, well beyond the stamina of those original dozen or so highlighters. Like many Kindle books, this one was rife with eager early highlighters who pooped out. Solnit manages in later chapters to connect walking to politics, to landscape, to law, to sex, to sociology. It is a shame that those readers didn’t keep going. Or keep highlighting.

Several of the historical and literary figures Solnit profiles are those who set out on long, solitary journeys of endurance. Journeys that test the limits of their bodies. In a way by creating such a thorough, well-researched book that examines the subject--walking--from every possible angle, Solnit creates a bit of an endurance test for her readers too. Or at least, an experience that parallels the journeys of characters in so many walking books.
"In such travel literature there is no overarching plot, except for the obvious one of getting from point A to point B (and for the more introspective, the self-transformation along the way). In a sense these books on walks for their own sakes are the literature of paradise, the story of what can happen when nothing profound is wrong, and so the protagonist—healthy, solvent, uncommitted—can set out seeking minor adventure. In paradise, the only things of interest are our own thoughts, the character of our companions, and the incidents and appearance of the surroundings."
Though it was written after Wanderlust was published, I couldn't help but think of Wild, Cheryl Strayed's one-woman journey along the Pacific Crest Trail when I read that. There is a specific genre of books--"walks for their own sakes" that are both inspiring and something I think we crave--and when these include significant challenges they're often quite compelling.

But no matter what the endurance experience, unfortunately not everybody makes it. Solnit started to lose me along the trail.

Wanderlust examines walking--something so basic, something so essential to our existence that we take for granted and depend on for our entire lives--for its social, cultural, religious, and historical implications. I particularly enjoyed the sections on Classical and Enlightenment philosophy and their connections to walking, and the excerpts from authors like Jane Austen that showed how walking impacts character. The book looks at walking in nature, the suburbs, the city, and the garden. Solnit grounds her observations in first person accounts of her own walks. She begins in the fringes of San Francisco and ends in the chaos of Las Vegas.

Solnit writes so much here, and so well, that it's hard to find fault with it. But after a while it all started to blur together for me. Wanderlust drags its feet a bit when it heads away from the path for too long to pursue a tangent. In these sections it begins to feel like a textbook, and I think in so doing, loses a bit of its magic. Solnit’s strongest writing is that which is grounded in place, in the specifics of a historical figure’s life, or in literature. There's still more here to like than not, but this isn't a book that feels like a short walk through the park. This is a pack-your-backpack-and-get-out-on-the-trail-long-term kind of book.

My recommendation: Read. But go slow so you don't get blisters.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

These Wumboes

Gah. Almost summer, and it's starting to feel like it. Four more days of The Mrs. P Show, and I get to just be Mommy and Heather again for ten whole weeks. I am so frigging tired of having to be Mrs. P.

Anyway.

The last few days have been prime mom/ kiddo time. Lots of QT with the monkeys. Friday was Superhero day at their school. My mom made them custom capes. How cute are these dudes? They each created their own alterego. Roo was Pajama Girl and Buddy was Mr. Mustachio. (His sidekick, Yoshi, also had a mini cape.)

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You gotta love a kid who wants you to draw a mustache on his face for school. (First he brought me a black sharpie, but I thought better of it and went with liquid eyeliner.)

Our weekend plans ended up changing, and Friday night it ended up being just the three of us so I took them out for a little mommy date. We split a big ol' bacon cheeseburger and fries and then we ordered a triple ice cream sundae to share... each of us picked a flavor of ice cream and a topping.

Henry has a history of ordering the world's WORST frozen dessert creations (see his habit of mixing peanut butter with mint... ew) so I vetoed his first disgusting choice, but we ended up with a chocolate, mint chip and toasted almond sundae that was both ginormous and delicious. We owned that sucker and finished every bite.

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As Addie noted: we ate more ice cream than food. Yes, daughter. That's when you know you're doing it right.

Yesterday we went on a wild goose chase around town to find the new pair of glasses Addie wanted to order. Actually, we knew right where they were, but of course they were at a place that doesn't take our insurance. Fail. And honestly, when we're double covered I'm not about to pay out of pocket and wait around for a check that might not cover the whole cost. But after three tries, we ended up at our original optometrist (why we didn't try there to begin with is beyond me) and they could special order them for us. Sigh.

No worries. We got to spend the day together, the kids got a mall trip out of it, and errbody got a corn dog. (I know. High five for the healthy eating choices, Mom.) I also got to spend the rest of my birthday cash at The Limited, which was singing a "40% off" Siren Song I couldn't resist.


They topped off their day by swimming in grandma's pool, if you can call the screaming and shivering they did "swimming." It wasn't exactly warm, but I think they're still young enough that any kind of getting wet in a body of water counts. I got to read a whole issue of The New Yorker in one day and read about a fourth of my last required book, Rebecca Solnit's Wanderlust. I remembered a little bit what it feels like to be a person.

There just aren't words for all the happies I have about the summer that's about to happen.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Lazy is Too Much Work

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I took the above picture just after hanging over the fence with a hose to water my veggie garden this afternoon. At this point, everything is still alive. Win. I'm kind of proud of myself for not dropping my iPhone in the mud, too.

I had big plans to veg out this afternoon. I took the pic, then sat down to write about being lazy and awesome in my backyard while enjoying the quiet and the breeze. I was all set to be deliberately useless.

But my laptop died.  So I went in the house to plug it in and drag the cord out the crack of the screen door so I could start over again and type. About how frigging relaxed I was. I opened up a new window so I could get started writing. I turned on my quiet, relaxing Pandora station. And then the internet died too.

Rather than getting up to use my legs and walk inside the house to find him like a healthy, functioning human, I called E from my cell phone to tell him (again) that we're paying too damn much for cable internet to have it cut out all the time. He agreed to call and take care of it, but any sense of concentration I had was already broken. We hung up. I thought some more about how relieved I was to be wrapping up the school year, how nice it was going to be to sit on my back porch all night with my fat cat and be a big lazy loser.

Then the phone rang. Twice. It was too loud outside to hear the calls. My sinuses also started to ache from that gentle breeze because it was agitating the same tissues as yesterday's wind... So much for outside time. I came inside.

E fixed the internet thing, or at least figured out what the problem is. But then Addie needed help with a book report, and then E had to have everybody turn off all the electronics while he got online with Comcast, and Henry wanted to roll around in the hall with me and show me his superhero cape for school tomorrow.

We grabbed some pizza for dinner--which was awesome because I didn't have to cook anything--but it took a lot of doing before we got back home.

Now I'm too tired to relax.


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Choosing It

Yesterday was stupid rough. Just too much. I was wound up by the time I got home from work. By the time I was done with all of my responsibilities for the night, I was twisted up into a big fat pretzely knot.

Yep. Sounds about right for late May. But I can't keep that up. There are two little people and one gluten-intolerant dude in this house who need me to function properly. None of that twitchy lunatic shit.

Today I woke up and I knew it was time to reframe.

Need to get moving.

Time for this. Time for a mindful shift: choosing joy, choosing to be happy about my last days of school rather than choosing to stew in frustrations about little things that I can't control. Or choosing to fixate on actions of people that probably have very little to actually do with me.

So I spent all day being thankful for those around me. Making a choice to do that. Consciously choosing love and whatnot.

And huh. What a difference. What a better day.

Today was the penultimate (SAT word!) day in the slow march toward the end of the year for my seniors. But it was great.

Last stack of papers to grade. #sadbuthappy

I won't pretend I want this year to go on and on. I'm ready for it to come to a close. But it's nice to enjoy some sweet moments with my kids before they graduate next week, to make an effort to mark the occasion of the end of their high school experience.

And just like somebody upstairs knew I needed an extra lift, one of my favorite kids from a former class was back to visit me after school. We had a nice, long chat and it reminded me (yes, again--I seem to need to hear it a lot lately) of why and how the job matters. Just plain made my day.

Goal for tomorrow: choose joy again.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Relax.

I had trouble sleeping last night after watching the series finale of The Big C. It was intensely sad, as one would expect the last show in a series about a woman dying of cancer to be. But my sloppy TV tearjerker cry didn’t keep me awake. In fact, last night was one of those nights when I welcomed the release of cry TV. It’s so safe to cry about fake people’s lives, and occasionally I relish that kind of fictional emotional release. I let myself tear up, but then I lay there with a gnawing feeling in my stomach for almost two hours after I switched off the tube. E and I had spent most of the night dancing around a fight about nothing, and I couldn’t really let anything go.

Well, that’s not exactly true. We did that dancing around a fight thing for a while, first. But eventually we just got tired of not having the fight and we just had it. A stupid, bickery fight about nothing that couldn’t be settled because it didn’t have a point. That’s why I couldn’t sleep, hours later.

The thing about fighting is that you can do damage whether it’s about something or not. It doesn’t matter if there’s a conflict on the table or if you’ve just been taking shots at each other all night each time you pass in the halls. Watching cry TV didn’t help me feel any more peaceful, really, and even though I eventually drifted off to sleep, I woke up anxious.

I’ve noticed a trend in myself over the past few years and I’m not sure what it portends, only that it’s a change. I used to be an at-all-costs pacifist, the kind of wife who’d see the end of a night of arguing approaching and try, frantically, to make her husband make up with her. I’m not that anymore. I want conflict to end—even more so to avoid it—but I’m less likely to want to give when I feel like I’ve been painted in the wrong light. I’m more likely to stand my ground if I feel like I’m misunderstood.

Unfortunately this comes at the cost of that false security I used to get from a hasty makeup.

And it doesn’t work so well with my panic disorder. My anxiety comes so specifically from avoidance. The more I try to avoid things--particularly difficult emotions or conflicts, or say, wrapping up an argument, the more something is unsettled--the more certain I am to have a panic attack in the near future. I feel anxiousness building in myself, feel the familiar tightening in my chest and the tingling in my arms until hours later I’ll be somewhere unrelated and my hart races and I feel like I need to get away and hide under the covers so I can avoid the world. Blam: panic.

Last night I went to bed unsettled. Today I woke up anxious.

There are other changes that I see as improvements: I’m more likely to apologize now or ask for forgiveness and mean it than I used to be. I’m less likely to let a fight start in the first place. And certainly I know enough about my own anxiety now to know how to manage it when it starts to make an appearance.

But if I could change one thing about myself, I would shake this anxious feeling that creeps up my spine from time to time and requires a "waiting out" period to go away. I used to think it meant I was weak—that things scared me too much and that’s why I felt this way sometimes—that I wasn’t strong enough or adult enough or smart enough to stand up to my fears. Like if I could just do what people told me and “relax,” I’d be normal. Now I know that it’s more a trick of my nervous system than any real symptom of fear, but it’s not any more pleasant to deal with. It's more of an annoying companion to tolerate until it decides to take off. And I know it will. Just like I know E and I will move on from our stupid disagreement that probably had its origin in the fact that the house was overheated yesterday afternoon and we're both ready for the school year to end.

For now, I’m just a little unsettled.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Wherein Heather From 2007 Helps Me Out:

Things are, as I said, wrapping up.

Today I had lunch with a small group of kids that I taught during the 2009-2010 school year who are about to graduate high school. That class wasn't my first time teaching freshmen, but it was my first time teaching freshmen in a long time. Probably since my first or second year teaching, when I didn't know shit about what I was doing and I was just faking my way to 3:15 every day. But four years ago I decided I'd take on the challenge--and make no mistake, teaching 14 and 15 year olds is exactly that--of a different grade to try to improve freshman skills and grades at our school, and these were the first group I cut my teeth on.

They drove me nuts.

But I loved them. They were goofy and fun and they helped me to see what it is that I love about teaching freshmen: they change so much from the time they enter high school to the time they leave my class. They need someone who can teach them how to do high school, and how to take notes, and how to write, and how to get organized. And it's a privilege to see them in the halls for the next three years after I teach them.

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So today I made good on a promise I made to one particular group when they were still in my class, and we had a pizza party.

But next year it's just not in the cards to teach freshmen; it was more important to me to teach fewer things while I finish my thesis next year, even if it means switching grades. So just as I'm hitting my stride with this grade and feeling like I really know what I want to do with my curriculum, I'm switching back to 11th grade--a grade I taught for years and years and years until I was so sick of it I didn't want to even look at an American Lit book for a while. So this should be fun. I'm thinking of all the ways I can reinvent my own plans from scratch.

Which, you can imagine, feels a little bit overwhelming. I'm excited about the prospect of creating something new. Writing curriculum, planning, taking a skill back to its most simple and basic point: these are my most favorite things about teaching. But admittedly, it's a lot to think about at once, creating a whole school year all over again.

So today I set to work looking through all my old unit binders, and I decided I'd begin the process of opening up old lesson plan files on the computer. I decided I'd start with the most recent year I taught juniors, 2007.

And God bless 2007-Me, because she sure made 2013-Me feel better about what I'm facing next school year. Sure, next year I'll be writing my thesis. Sure, next year I'll be graduating from an MFA program and trying to publish and teaching an unfamiliar grade with a schedule that's not exactly what I'd hoped it would be. But when I opened up my daily lesson plans from 2007, you know what I saw?

In 2007, I was teaching FIVE preps. That means I taught five separate classes every day, each one with its own lesson plan. Every day I was writing (and teaching) plans for these five classes:

AP English 12
English 11
Jazz Dance I
Jazz Dance II
Dance Composition and Performance

Every. Damn. Day. Every one of those classes was doing something different. Plus I was directing our school's dance company, which was about a ten hour commitment a week (plus all the additional years it took off the end of my life in high school girl drama). Five separate written lesson plans a day. And I wasn't winging it. 2007-Me was bad ass. There in my computer were daily plans for each class (even the dance classes--damn, Heather!) for the whole year. Never mind that in 2007 I had a 5 year old and a 2 year old. And a husband in law school.

I did learn that year that I couldn't say yes to everything at work anymore. E and I almost got divorced in 2008, and though I know it's not solely because of my crazy commitments, I know it wasn't unrelated, either.

But opening that file today and seeing all my organized hard work made me feel like I can do this. Like 2013 is going to be okay and as long as I stick to what I know--my silly charts that everyone laughs about and budgeting my time like a madwoman--someday I'm going to look back at 2013-Me and wonder how she did it, too.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

San Francisco Graduation

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E and I drove to San Francisco yesterday to see his sister graduate from college in the beautiful St. Ignatius Church on the University of San Francisco campus. It was a beautiful, sunny day in the city.

I'm happy to have a reason to visit San Francisco, and as usual visiting the city made me think about how many other places in the world I want to go see.

April's ceremony also made me think about the fact that it's not long until my own graduation, and that made me think about the fact that I have a thesis to write... so I better get to work.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Recent Reads

Read, read, read, write, write, write. Crossing things off the list, still. Most of my recent reads have been for class, although I did reread Gatsby so I can go see the new movie and complain about how different it is from the book. Also, I wanted to make sure I still hate Daisy.

Spoiler alert: YUP.

A lot of these are serious reads, for my very serious nonfiction class. Great writing, but really hard work to get through. At this point I have only one required book and one required critical paper left for my graduate program. I can't tell you how excited I am that I'm going to be able to read anything I want, soon, and I won't have to feel guilty about it, like I'm cheating on my school reading list.

But for the meantime, here's what's been on my nightstand lately:


The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I started reading this little novel (or rather, having Jake Gyllenhaal read it to me) again on a whim, and by the time I was finished with it, I had learned I'd be (probably) teaching juniors again next year. Which means I'll be (probably) teaching this book again for the first time in a while. So I guess that's good.

Gatsby is a quick read, so it's never a chore to get through. I'm always--and I don't think I could even count how many times I've read it at this point--surprised at how thin it feels when I'm reading it. Thin, in terms of the actual text. I tend to think of Hemingway as Mr. Sparse, and while Fitzgerald's descriptions are a bit more lush, this is still a book with very little actually in it. Somehow, though, Fitzgerald creates a world that's bigger than the sum of its parts, just like Gatsby does with his own persona. That's the magic of it. But when I look at what's actually on the page, there always seems to be less there than what I remember. It's like going back to a place I remember from childhood and finding it smaller than I remember in my mind.

Gatsby isn't my favorite book, but it's one of those books that you're just better off knowing. It's a good thing to have as a part of your literary vocabulary. I also have to admit that it brings me a lot of joy to hear it being discussed on such a widespread level--even when the movie is getting panned. All this talk about stories found in books can't be bad. If Baz Luhrmann and Jay-Z can make my former students read something that I couldn't, fine. At least they picked up a book.

My recommendation: You should read this at some point in your life. And good Lord, there's more to it than that stupid green light.


Mr. Wilson's Cabinet Of Wonder: Pronged Ants, Horned Humans, Mice on Toast, and Other Marvels of Jurassic Technology by Lawrence Weschler

This is an odd little nonfiction book about an odd place in LA. Weschler writes about David Wilson's Museum of Jurasssic Technology in Los Angeles, an eclectic collection of science, history, anatomical anomalies, dioramas and hoaxes. Wilson himself is an interesting character. Weschler gives his reader a firsthand account of his visits to the museum, and traces the inception of the idea of the museum itself.

The writing in this book was great, and Wilson was a quirky, compelling character who was presented with fascination and respect. I just couldn't get into it.

My recommendation: A good read for museum buffs or fans of the supernatural. Definitely a quick read, and pushes the limits of what we accept in terms of normal, scientific, and historical.


Out of Sheer Rage by Geoff Dyer

Geoff Dyer came to our residency last June and I hadn't read any of his work yet, so it was time I got to work on that. Out of Sheer Rage is his book about his attempt to write a book about D. H. Lawrence.

This book is unique, and I can see so many ways it could go wrong in another writer's hands. But somehow for Dyer, it works. He is a great writer. Basically in writing about all the ways he could not, did not, would not get to work on his Lawrence book, he ends up writing the Lawrence book. It's sort of a book by procrastination, which is, I guess, a thing. I enjoyed it, but I will say that by the end I was also ready for it to end.

My recommendation: This isn't a book that I think would appeal to everybody, I think, but the writing is stellar, and it's kind of amazing how Dyer manages to fill its pages with as much avoidance behavior as he does. This is a good, solid read. If you're a committed reader, you'd enjoy it.


The Book of My Lives Aleksander Hemon

This is another serious book. Hemon writes in this collection of (mostly previously published) essays about his early life in Sarejevo and his more recent life in Chicago. He is quite often a displaced person. He seems to be never fully in one place or another, and there is a lot of powerful stuff here about war, alienation, death, and defining oneself through contrast with other cultures.

But for me this book was about one essay, pure and simple. It's called "The Aquarium," and it was published in The New Yorker in June of 2011. You can read it here. In this essay, Hemon writes of the death of his infant daughter after her diagnosis and treatment for a brain tumor. It's some of the most raw, honest writing I've ever read. It's beautiful writing, but it ruined me. It is the final essay in the collection, and it elevated the rest of the book, shining new light on everything else he writes. I can't say it would have been the same book for me if Hemon wouldn't have included this piece, but it was so, so hard to read.

My recommendation: The Hemon book isn't one I'd probably recommend to most people. But I would say the New Yorker piece of writing is. It's one of the most honest, heart-wrenching things I've ever read.

Friday, May 17, 2013

What's Left.

Not much is what's left of this school year. I think we're down to four days for my seniors and seven days for the freshmen. That's nothing, I know. So much to do between now and the end of the year, but there are things to be thankful for. I said a little prayer of thanksgiving to myself today that I've been lucky enough to stay in the same classroom so the last four years and I get to stay put again. I DO NOT miss having to pack up everything and move each year. That was a less-than-fun way to spend the first eight or so years I taught. I have a bunch of cleaning to do this year, but I'll survive.

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Today was exhausting, but great. My seniors are preparing to workshop their creative writing pieces for the end of the year, and for the first time ever I'm getting to actually use things I'm doing in my MFA world in my teaching world. So that's cool. There has been a lot of tangential crossover, but it was nice to be able to say "this is what we do in my creative writing classes" and explain the process. They seem genuinely happy to write something creative rather than something for the test, and I've really wanted to give them more opportunities to do that. (Not everybody sees essay writing as creative writing, unfortunately. That's a hard-sell even to many a nerd.) I'm looking forward to seeing what they turn in next week. My freshmen presented scenes from Romeo and Juliet today, and they were awesomely clumsy and hilarious... but they got it. It's so obvious to me that they got it. Hearing Shakespeare's words come out of fifteen year olds' mouths (and knowing that the fifteen year olds didn't understand a lick of the play a few weeks ago) is just about as good as it gets, frankly. I left feeling proud of everybody today. Five for five.

But yeah, I'm beat. E tells me I need to stop saying that. He says every day is a long day, every week is a long week, blah, blah, I'm always exhausted. It's true, though. I'm doing so much. Last night Henry had his last playoff game for baseball and there's always a stack of reading on my nightstand for the ol' MFA. And we have to eat food, which seems to always need buying and cooking and cleaning up. It's all good stuff, it's just stuff. I've taken to a habit of laying on my couch to read or write during my prep period (shoes off, natch), and today after school I fell asleep in the backyard in my chair, "reading." Oopsie.

I'm just ready for summer. I'm ready for life to shrink to the size of a pinpoint. I'm ready for the longest drive I make to be from my house to my mom's. After school and residency and the end of quarters (teaching and learning) I'll start waking up every day to make a pot of coffee and sit by the window and read... and we'll swim... and I'll nap... and probably the only people I'll talk to most days will be the monkeys and E and K. And that will be fine by me, because hopefully it means I can focus on writing and only writing.

Right now I'm still having to look at too many people with my face.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Plant Stuff

Oops. Hi. Missed a day yesterday. Oh well. Still doing better than before.

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E weeded and rototilled the vegetable garden for me the other day to get it ready to plant again. Basically I don't think I'd looked at it since August, and it was like the Land Before Time in there. Oops.

But lo and behold, we had some forgotten strawberry plants with ripe strawberries. Nothing like a surprise harvest to get us inspired to plant our little summer veggie farm. Yum.

This reminds me. Almost time to make some jam.

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K helped me figure out what to buy for our planter next to the peach tree, too. I came home from the nursery with a trunk full of pretty pink and white geraniums and all sorts of veggies for the vegetable garden. Our backyard is officially complete, plant-wise. And I made sure to get everything in the ground last night so I didn't end up letting anything die.

Go, me.

Also, this: I love, love, love (have I not said this yet?) our backyard now. I love that it is such a nice place to hang out. We've never had that before. I've been out there every night after work and it just makes me happy. It's a tiny little space but it's awesome.

I've got plants on the brain right now. Life is hectic until school ends. Plants seem calm.

Anyway. Here's a poem about peonies. Just because.

Flowers!

Peonies
by Mary Oliver

This morning the green fists of the peonies are getting ready
to break my heart
as the sun rises,
as the sun strokes them with his old, buttery fingers

and they open--
pools of lace,
white and pink--
and all day the black ants climb over them,

boring their deep and mysterious holes
into the curls,
craving the sweet sap,
taking it away

to their dark, underground cities--
and all day
under the shifty wind,
as in a dance to the great wedding,

the flowers bend their bright bodies,
and tip their fragrance to the air,
and rise,
their red stems holding

all that dampness and recklessness
gladly and lightly,
and there it is again--
beauty the brave, the exemplary,

blazing open.
Do you love this world?
Do you cherish your humble and silky life?
Do you adore the green grass, with its terror beneath?

Do you also hurry, half-dressed and barefoot, into the garden,
and softly,
and exclaiming of their dearness,
fill your arms with the white and pink flowers,

with their honeyed heaviness, their lush trembling,
their eagerness
to be wild and perfect for a moment, before they are
nothing, forever?

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Watch this.

This time of year I always start to get a little sentimental as I send another group of seniors out into the world.

It's what led me to Anna Quindlen's commencement speech, On Being Perfect a few years ago.

So here is another new (to me) thing I love. I can't stop thinking about it this week, which means I needed to hear it just as badly as my kids do.

Watch it. Yes, it's 9 minutes, but I promise it's worth it.

From David Foster Wallace's 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College:

Monday, May 13, 2013

This.

Today an AP student from 2008 came back just to say thank you. Just to look me in the face and say that I was a teacher who mattered, and that she was grateful for what I meant in her life.

She just graduated from USC with her masters and is about to start her first official job in the big, big world. But she wanted to come back to high school to say thanks, first.

This is a beautiful thing that overwhelms me. And I am reminded of how lucky I am to get to do this job.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Peanut Butter of Peace

Well, I lost the Peanut Butter Wars.

I stood my ground for a long time, taking a stand against the dual evils of Jif and Skippy, but in the end I was no match for an all-out processed nut butter blitz that involved the extended family.

This story starts with me buying wholesome natural peanut butters for my family and ends with a jar of chocolate Jif in my pantry.

For years--years, I tell you--I used my power as sole purchaser of groceries to buy peanut butter that was as close as I could get to pure: containing no added oils or sugars. I like my peanut butter to be simple: peanuts, salt. The end. For health reasons, not because something is wrong with my tastebuds. We went over this before: Do Skippy and Jif taste like heaven? Yes. (So does candy.) Are processed peanut butters with additives good for you? Not as good as they could be. So given the mass amount of PB we consume around here with our J, I made a conscious effort to buy the healthier--if less spreadable and more grainy--natural kind.

Yes, she admitted, the annoying kind with the oil on top that you have to stir in. Not everything in life that's good can be easy. Read some Robert Frost.

But E is an old Skippy fan from way back, and as the children grew older he enlisted them in his protest. And one night at a family BBQ at my sister's, it slipped out that I was subjecting my children to such indescribable horrors as homemade yogurt and natural peanut butter.

The poor babies. Gasp! What did they do without their hydrogenated oils?

So haha, everyone in the family had a good laugh at my expense and asked me when I was moving to a hippie commune to make my artisanal cheese and granola. And because such things never end there and always turn into Christmas presents, E and the kids received an assorted box of peanut butters for Christmas from my Auntie Anne: Jif, Skippy, Reese's, you name it. About eight jars of the stuff. All varieties. All brands. All processed.

I wasn't about to throw out free food, so they ate it. Until we ran out about a month ago, and then I had to make a choice.

In the meantime, my descent into do-it-yourselfing has gotten even more nutty. I experimented with making my own nut butters and decided I like the taste of peanut (and almond) butter I make better than the natural brand from the store. You can't get much fresher than the peanut butter you just made out of a bunch of nuts.

Anyhoo, I gave. I was in Costco and I saw the price tag on the double Skippy pack and I couldn't resist. I knew the fam was way less likely to go for my new PDawg-ground PB blend, so I brought home the two tubs of processed nut butter happiness and presented them to E: The Peanut Butter of Peace.

We are now a two peanut butter household:

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Skippy and homemade.

I left the room after the presentation of the PBOP, but apparently there was a ceremony wherein he and the monkeys each dipped a finger in the top of the new jar to celebrate their victory. They allowed me to retreat quietly to the bedroom so I wouldn't have to see this bold act and feel shame.

All has been well on the two peanut butter track, save for the day I opened the cupboard and found the chocolate Jif. There might have been a "what the hell is this?" uttered that day. Might have. And we might have remembered why I buy the groceries, not E.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Last Game (Sorta)

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Today was Henry's last game of the regular season. We have playoffs this week (and here's where I apologize, because if I was a more sporty mom, the kind who knew what to say in such situations so as not to embarrass her son when he looks back upon such things once he's old enough to read them, I would know how to say this more delicately), but we're not so good and we're gonna get creamed. So I'm pretty sure playoffs won't last very long.

Listen. I didn't say we weren't the cutest. Or the trying-hardest. We have heart. We have spunk. We play by the rules. We just don't really win, so I think the whole playoff thing isn't going to take so long.

Anyway, today was the last game for ol' Hanko. He started off getting to play first base. While he was warming up, a ball bounced off the ground and hit him right in the eye. So he ended up sitting out the first inning to ice it. Poor dude. I think the worst part of it was that he wanted to play first base so badly and he missed out on it. The game after that point was okay, but I think it threw him and he looked to be kind of nervous. We played a tough team and though we held our own, Henry ended up crawling into his shell a little bit and I didn't see the same bold kid that played Thursday night against the parents.

But by the end of the night tonight before bed, he seemed fully recovered. We made a family plan to meet up on the back porch for campfire time once it was dark (translation: sit around a fire pot in our patio furniture and eat Oreos). Henry ate about ten Double Stufs, so I'd say he was doing okay. He also dragged out a book of Weird Al History and regaled us all with Weird Al factoids by the light of his tiny LCD book light and the glow of the Sterno in the fire pot.

This is a new level of exhaustion, but it's happy-through-exhaustion I'm feeling tonight.

(And relief... I'm ready for baseball to be over until next year.)


Friday, May 10, 2013

Out of Touch

Most school years I'm watching the days tick down, counting the minutes until I'm released for summer. Not because summer offers true freedom, but because it offers a break from this routine. I end up working all summer, too, but it's different stuff: planning and creating and reading and prepping that can happen at home in the flexible hours of the day. I can pee when I need to, rather than in five minute windows between class periods. I don't have to watch my personal possessions carefully so they don't get stolen or end up with body parts drawn on them. I get to nap. I get to see my children all day, which makes any task feel like more fun. Generally by late May I'm itching for that kind of change, and a healthy dose of sunshine and chlorine.

But this school year has been different than a normal one. It's moving faster. Every time I glance at a calendar I'm surprised at how close the end of the year seems. Somehow this year is determined to advance quickly whether I'm ready or not. It must be the constant forward propulsion of my grad school program, the sense that no matter how slow I want time to go, it keeps happening to me. My whole life I've been in a hurry to get to a finish line so I can be happy. Now, for a lot of reasons, I just want to be in this moment and I can't slow it down.

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Life is good on paper. At least, all the parts of a good life are there: the son, playing baseball with new confidence. The daughter, sticking close to mom's side and spending lots of time confiding about the ups and downs of each day. The husband, making life more tolerable by methodically improving each piece of the house and yard. The happy, stable home. And yet, something about this past month feels too hurried, too much a blur. Never enough time to cook dinner. Never enough sleep. Never enough time to sit and think, or walk and daydream. Things are good: students have been shepherded to another AP test, another school year comes to a close, papers are written and graded and dishes are done... yet something settled and restful is just out of my reach. I'm not unhappy. I just can't concentrate.

Strangely, I have also gotten away from writing here daily. I feel out of touch with something inside myself. Not because this is such an important space, but the act of daily writing is important for me. I wish I could say it was because I've been spending countless hours pouring my thoughts into writing projects for school, but my work there has been relatively the same as it was before. I haven't been more prolific. I can't tell you where the words have gone. Instead of putting them elsewhere I just haven't been writing them. I haven't been able to make myself sit and write unless it was for an assignment.

I feel kind of terrible that I've managed to find a new way to be frustrated with life. So even when I don't have the I'll-be-happy-when-s, I'm spending most of my day thinking of only things I have to think about. That's a really quick way to get tired, and tired of everything around you.

I'm going to make myself write daily again for two weeks, and see if it gets better.


Saturday, May 04, 2013

Parade Day at Grandma's

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