Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Oscar the dachshund



Sleeping, yes definitely sleeping.  That is my favorite activity.  I guess that is why my friend Jennifer gave me the nickname Speed Bump.  I have found the best place to take a day nap is in the middle of the living room floor.  From there I will be alert to any opportunity- be it a treat or an excursion- and can keep an eye on my toys.

I should introduce myself.  My name is Oscar.  Alma, a two-legged member of my pack, often calls me Oscar Meyer Mayes.  Jennifer calls me a handful of names, beginning with Duckbilled Platypus, Doodle Bug, and Dude.  But by far my favorite thing is when Phil, leader of our pack, calls me Oscar.  He is a good strong leader, but he calls my name with a kindness I find hard to resist.

I became part of Phil’s pack long ago.  I can barely remember the other pack because I was mostly alone, for some reason I don’t know why.  Phil and Alma adopted me into their pack on a temporary basis.  I have been here over 63 years (I guess two-leggeds count time different, so convert that to 9).  I wonder when “temporary” became “permanent?”

My small size and short legs caused my friends to underestimate me.  They soon learned this small package contains the heart of a hunter and the soul of an adventurer.  Soon, two chickens lost their lives to the sting of my fangs.  And Phil came to learn that although I love him, I enjoy a good wander, even if I have to ignore his calls.

The highlight of any week is a car ride!  These can include errands for the pack, play dates with Jennifer’s pack, or unfortunately the doctor.  Jennifer’s pack includes Ellie and Tater.  With her long hair and soulful eyes, I instantly wanted to be Ellie’s boyfriend.  But I can’t seem to make her understand she is not supposed to ride on me.  Tater recently joined Jennifer’s pack.  We became friends instantly.  It is fun to psych him out, making him think I am going to keep his precious Kong.  He seems to love drooling on my toy Monkey, but not nearly as much as I do.  I offended him when I destroyed one of his toys, so one day while the pack napped he shredded my favorite stuffed toy, Froggie.  That day we sat nose-to-nose and had a heart-to-heart.  No toy is worth a lost friendship.

The pack mostly stays home now.  There is a fence that tells others “This belongs to Phil’s pack.”  Pepper is an old dog whose job is to guard and alert the pack.  He is so serious about his job that he has never come inside where we sleep.  Outside the fence we have more chickens and a turkey.  I ignore them to give them a false sense of security until my next attack.

I am a bit of a daredevil.  Phil and Alma learned to hold me tight when we ride in the truck because I once jumped out of the window.  I bounced on the pavement but was too macho to show that it hurt a bit.

The worst time in my life was when I hurt my back.  I am an extra-special, extra-long kind of dog and it is common for dogs like me injure their backs.  The pain was bed, surgery was worse, and I nearly gave up.  But Phil and Alma made me exercise in a warm pool of water and babied me.  One night they nearly gave up on me.  I could tell his heart was breaking by the way he said, “Tomorrow the vet will put Oscar to sleep.”  The next morning I jumped out of bed and trotted down the hall out of sheer will and love.  I didn’t want to disappoint my pack.

Now I maintain a busy schedule of napping, eating, laying with Monkey in my mouth, getting patted, and watching the cat, ICK!  My pack allows her to live with us because Alma seems to like her.  Tess and I have mutual disregard for each other.  Despite this one lapse in judgement, you can see my pack is the best.

Wait!  Did you hear that!?!  Alma just opened the treat container.  Gotta go!
*
*
*
In May 2013 Oscar died suddenly while at the vet.  He was later diagnosed as suffering kidney cancer.  We were glad he went suddenly, but miss him still.  Shortly after this my parents lost their other dog, Pepper.  Tater now lives with them and is very loved.


The idea to write Oscar’s story came to me from a former student.  All of her dogs have been memorialized in written form and I loved the heartfelt tribute.  I decided to write this from his POV because I wanted to try to convey his love of life and sweet nature.  I hope you like it.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Car Pool Lane




I am a woman of forty-four years.  I am a teacher with nearly eleven years of experience.  I have fulfilled hours of babysitting and was a nanny.  But none of that helped today.

Two of my best friends are traveling and I am honored to be housesitting/dog sitting/ kid sitting for them for 4 days.  However, I learn poorly by being given verbal directions, preferring to observe the task or to try it the first time with supervision.  That was not possible this morning.  I needed to convey the family's eight year old to his school.  What a madhouse!  The street we approach on is perpendicular to his school which is on a busy street, and there is a stop sign for our direction but not the others.  There is also a left hand turn lane towards the street we are on.

Parents and small children darted out then jumped back as if they intuited that I was a dangerous novice participating in their morning routine.  This was anything but routine to me.  A kind stranger in the left lane impeded traffic on my behalf and we entered the stream approaching the school with our lives intact.

But then in the parking lot, there are multiple lanes.  Picture a small charter school with the kind of complex parking lot, lanes and lines one usually sees at a huge airport.  And I foolishly ask the eight year old which lane I should be in.  He vaguely points.  Is he enjoying my ineptitude?  I think so.

After depositing him I returned to my friends home to sooth my frayed nerves with coffee.  But did I mention I am spending the day with their sixteen year old, a girl I adore but who long ago figured out how lame I am?

But fortunately I am a basically positive person.  I can't help processing this morning as a metaphor for my classes.  Do I make assumptions about my student's ability to do ANY task simply because they have been students in the past?  Do I make allowances for auditory, visual, and tactile kinesthetic learners?  Do I abandon them in confusion with multiple possibilities for success or failure?  And because of this do they resort to seeking guidance from a source who is equally clueless, or has a different agenda?

Food for thought...

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Living with my Laptop





Living with my Laptop

I am visiting my best friends.  Actually, it is more accurate to call them family by choice.  My least favorite part of traveling is packing.  So, I threw my laptop into it's bag without looking at what else I am toting about.  The following things are living in the same space as my laptop:

1. A red Avon lip balm that I don't like
2. A copy of Westword, a Denver publication
3. A catalog for Beyond the Blackboard because I may splurge on some teaching supplies
4. A notepad with a rough draft of a future blog post tucked inside (waiting for the frenetic environment of my favorite coffee house and a cup of their best)
5. Flash cards I made for a tutor client
6. A pad of sticky notes
7. A completed job application and list of references (before I started teaching at my current school, I carried these with me in case I found a job online)
8. Five pens (two with blue ink, one red Sharpie, and two that are deceptive, each writes black but has a pink or purple case, I think I thought these were different colors)
9. Mechanical pencil and Clic eraser (wonder does this mean I make more mistakes than I output?)
10. Pack of bubble gum eggs from last Easter with 7/12 remaining, guess I didn't like them
11. Pencil bag that holds an extension cord and a corded old school mouse
12. Charger for MacBook Pro
13. Phone number of my newest friend, Cheyanne (I gotta call her, does she know I am blogging?)
14. Packet of Kleenex
15. Business card for West Central Colorado UniServ (I don't know what this business is or how I got this card)
16. Sticker for www.boomwriter.com (looks cool)
17. Unused lanyard
18. Altoids tin full of thumb drives

I need to lighten my load.  When did I cross the line from "prepared" to "pack mule"?

Friday, March 27, 2015

Goals




Goals for this year
- less upsetti, more spaghetti (Confession: I stole this post idea from a friend's daughter, and this first goal is word-for-word as she shared it)
- kiss my dog one million times everyday
- bark less, wag more (yes, stole this too)
- with friends, family, and pets who are like family, remember daily that each moment together is precious
- participate in a book club, a book challenge, and read 2 books I've "always wanted to read" 
- only drink good coffee
- drink more tea
- drink more water

- make more friends
- eat more kale and ice cream
- remember moderation in all things
- take more photos
- consume less
- feel the feels (even when they are painful)
- exercise more
- travel more
- spend more time at home

(I love posting this in March instead of January, no pressure)

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Looking at the World Like a Writer




Seven more nights of SOLSC and I am planning to finish strong.

Today has been a great day.  While I drove around and caught up on errands after a day on the road yesterday, and in preparation of leaving town for a week, I was flooded by fleeting story ideas.  I don't think I have the creativity and perseverance to write a book.  But blogging and the routine and accountability has convinced me that daily writing can be a great way to process the events of the day.  And my senses are heightened.  I feel like I am looking at the world like a writer.  I am looking for stories.  And since my friend Marie, another SOLSC blogger told me last week about Blogging Tuesday, I will have an accountability outlet I can live with.

Gotta go pack for my trip, but I have a great blog post coming soon!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Piece (of My Mind) Train





I have gotten so much out of the Slice of Life Story Challenge (SOLSC), the month long blogging challenge.  In particular I feel more confident that I can share an experience with others, they will be kind.  I have also enjoyed the accountability that participants are expected to post daily.  Blogging gives my day a bit of ritual.

Having said that, I doubt I'll be able to post to my blog tomorrow.  I am a middle school teacher in Colorado and tomorrow there is a rally at the State Capital to discuss the negative effect that the over abundance of standardized tests are having on children in the state, and elsewhere in the USA.  Called "Our Students Are More Than A Score," the rally will include lawmakers, parents, students (hopefully those on Spring Break) and teachers.

But I will need to travel more than 230 miles to the rally.  So a group of teachers will leave early on a bus, rally, then return the same day.  I am looking forward to the time with my colleagues and meeting others and hearing what they have to say about this issue.  However, I also know the day will be exhausting.

But seeing the frustration, fear and fatigue of my students has motivated me.  I don't normally rock the boat.  But I am thinking tonight of others who risked more than I'll ever risk to make their voices heard and hopefully bring about change for the good.  And the song Peace Train is going through my mind.  So I guess tomorrow I will be riding the Piece (of My Mind) Train.

If you don't agree with me on the standardized testing issue, I hope you'll at least say a prayer that my travels are safe.

More details in two days...

Monday, March 23, 2015

Keeping It In Perspective





Why did I do that?  Why did I waste two days, days I will never get back, worried and stressing over a doctor's appointment?  The appointment was tolerable, I even like my new doctor and can see having her as my primary care physician for a long time.  I learned I have lost more than two pounds in the past three weeks (I'm sure I'll find them again soon :-) ).  And my doctor is very kind, she offered to let me come in monthly for a quick weigh-in and to have my blood sugar tested.  The part of the appointment I was most concerned about took 10 minutes at most.

I am reminded of the Prego ad where a woman tries that brand after buying another brand of spaghetti sauce.  She likes the Prego so much that she wonders about all the other poor decisions she has made, hilarity ensues.  Considering the ratio of 36 hours of stress to 10 minutes of unpleasantness, I have come to realize how often I allow my mind to blow things out of proportion.  

I'm not proud of that, but I am proud of the fact that I am a good learner.  I learn quick and am always willing to reflect.  So, I am going to make more effort to live in the moment, treat my time like it is valuable, and have confidence that whatever situation arises, I can handle it.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Self Care





I am a middle school teacher and Spring Break started Friday at 3:01 PM.  I have immersed myself in time with family, household chores too long neglected, some cooking and extra snuggles with my dachshund.  And tomorrow I will enjoy coffee with a friend.  I will be enjoying travel and leisure time.  However, I need to conduct an important piece of business during Spring Break.  I have been stressing all day about tomorrow.  In the morning I have a routine examination at my doctor's, the kind of exam to which no woman looks forward.

I'm going to go through with it, and know no one will care for my body like I will.  When I was in my 20's and 30's I could play fast and loose with my nutritional and exercise choices.  I neglected my self, took my health for granted, and failed to establish healthy habits.  I saw many of my friends establish these habits.  I have no excuse.

But I wish I had the freedom from inhibitions I had as a kid.  I wish I didn't cycle through humiliation, concern, curiosity ("Am I normal down there?"), and self-loathing.  It only ends to begin again.

Having said, er written that, I will be glad when the doctor says I can put my clothes back on tomorrow.  Eighteen hours to go.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Banana Bread



I don't know much, but I do know banana bread.  Last week and today (Saturday) I baked double batches of my banana bread.  The basis for my recipe was called Glazed Banana Spice Loaf in Muffins & Quick Breads, edited by Linda Fraser.  I have made many improvements on the original and today's loaves are my best yet. Sometimes adding an ingredient, like pureed coconut or cinnamon make a difference.  However, sometimes it is a case of addition by subtraction.  The original recipe called for a lemon glaze to be added after the loaf cools.  No kidding, lemon glaze on banana bread, sacrilege.

A friend left a jar of pureed coconut at my house.  I warmed the contents and substituted it measure for measure for the 1/2 cup of butter.  The loaf was a bit more dry, but the teacher I shared it with had no complaints.  Also, don't fear that the taste will be too coconutty, it was barely discernible.

So, below is my recipe, 2/3 of which remains true to the original, the other additions or variations are mine.  I hope you make a loaf, or two, and enjoy.

Jen

JEN'S Banana Bread
1 to 1 1/2 ripe bananas
1/2 C butter, softened at room temperature
3/4 C granulated sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 C milk
1/2 C Greek yogurt
1 1/2 C flour
1 tsp kosher
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 C walnuts, chopped (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare a 9 X 4 inch loaf pan with baking spray.  Remove the peel from the bananas and mash with a fork.  Cream together the butter and sugar.  Add the eggs one at a time and mix well.  Add the vanilla and mix well.  In a measuring cup use the fork from the banana to mix together the milk and Greek yogurt.  Mix the mashed bananas into the butter mixture, then the milk/yogurt and mix well.

In a separate bowl sift together the flour, salt, baking soda and spices.  With as little mixing as possible, incorporate the flour mixture with the butter mixture.  Fold in the nuts, if you please.

Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 45-55 minutes.  Allow to cool before removing from the loaf pan.  Can sit covered on the counter 3-4 days, but it won't last that long.

*** Please note, I live in a Colorado town at 4,593 feet above sea level.  You may need to make adjustments, but I have always found this recipe to be very dependable.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Today, March 20, 2015






Today was great.  This was the last school day before a two week Spring Break, and at the tail end of three weeks of PARCC testing.  I started the day in a negative place due to my lost property yesterday.  Waking before dawn, I felt like I was slogging through molasses.  And when I stepped into my underwear this morning and it tangled around my ankle, I lost it.  I cursed like a sailor and stomped around like a child having a tantrum.

But I am blessed to teach at a school I love with professionals who I mostly like (hey I'm being honest) and a student body that challenges me.  I am a literacy interventionist for struggling readers at a low income school.  But in a pattern I could have predicted, my kids started charging my batteries as soon as I stepped out of my car.  They don't realize how much they mean to me.  For all I invest in them of my time, skill, effort, and money, they pay much bigger dividends.

During this morning's student award assembly, I heard a cluster of boys singing a Bon Jovi song that was popular 20 years before they were conceived, followed by Rod Stewart's Young Turks.  Soon, several teachers, including myself, joined in and were singing at the top of our lungs like groupies.  There was even a bit of middle aged moshing.

By midday I had stored up so much laughter.  We play a game I call Word Ball, think Scattergories meets Dodge Ball.  And one of my favorite moments was when a new student, J, who I am told has survived horrendous abuse, became so deeply embroiled in the game that I could tell even he forgot his troubles for a while.  I also saw A, a large, adorable class clown with authority issues, take a tear-stained sixth grade boy under his wing.

As the day ended with a middle school dance and much camaraderie with my colleagues, I couldn't help but reflect on the start of my day in gray and it's trajectory to goofball bliss.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Lost






I can't find it!  Did I lose it because of my carelessness?  Or is it in my belongings and I just keep overlooking it?

Because I so rarely lose anything, I am unprepared to forgive myself.  Unprepared to shrug it off, as I would if someone else had lost something of value that belonged to me.

I am struggling.

Unfortunately, I can see I am going to keep circling back, cycling between bewilderment and self-recriminations.  And telling myself someone picked it up and needed it worse than I do, that doesn't help.

Even my Christian philosophy with it's reassurance that God has plans for me, plans to profit and not to allow harm to me, I am stubbornly ignoring that.  I am going to bed early in hopes to forgive and forget as I sleep.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Mystery





I have a degree in history.  That alone seems to be the reason I am the historian/genealogist for my family.  However, they assume I know how to ferret out hard to find historical information and anecdotal nuggets.  If time and finances allow, I want to immerse myself in genealogy this summer.

I want to prove or disprove the family stories I have heard at every gathering.  The tale I am most curious about is a family tragedy.  In a small town in Kansas in the 1920's two sisters took a walk; if I am correct, they were my great-great-aunts.  One was nursing a broken heart over a broken relationship.  However, the man she had broken up with tracked the sisters down as they strolled across a local picturesque bridge and shot both sisters, then himself.  The disturbed man died on the scene as did the younger sister.  The older, and the estranged lady friend of the shooter, lingered but died in the hospital 1-2 days later.  Despite my efforts I cannot find any newspaper clippings, obituaries, death records, anything to lend credence to the story.  Is it just a story?  What parts are true and which have been inflated with time and retelling?

*** Sorry for the dark tone of this post, just where my mind is tonight.


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Puff The Magic Tutor






Dragons live forever but not so little boys
Painted wings and giant strings make way for other toys.
One sad night it happened, Jackie Paper came no more
And Puff that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar.

I am a teacher but I also am a private tutor for a couple of families that have become like friends.  One family has used my services for four years.  I have been putting off the realization, but must face it, my favorite student no longer needs me.  We are supposed to tutor for two hours (divided between him and his sister) on Tuesdays, two hours on Wednesdays.  For the past several weeks he is either sick or has no homework.  Tonight we concluded one hour early.  While I am awed to see the progress this boy has made and the young man he is becoming, my heart is heavy.  I will undoubtedly see him when I tutor his sister, but have no illusions that it will be the same.  What will he share as I become someone from when he was a "kid"?  Becoming obsolete doesn't feel good.  All I can do is always send him love and light and hope his successes are more than his failures, and his failures serve to strengthen him.  Sigh...

Monday, March 16, 2015

Reading and Lamenting



I just realized I will miss another month of book club.  I excitedly joined a book club at the local public library in January.  That month we read Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen.  But, despite having read the book for February, The End of Your Life Book Club, I was unable to participate.  On the night of book club I was hosting my best friend for a week visit.  Ironically enough, one night we even watched The Jane Austen Book Club on TV.  But this month has been a perfect storm.  Between PARCC testing, Slice of Life blogging, tutoring, getting a new car, family demands...  I have not read the book, The Poisoner's Handbook.  In fact, I am reading a book I am really enjoying, The Miniaturist, and am reluctant to interrupt my flow.  Book club is Thursday.

What bothers me so much is I feel this is a bad example for my students.  I am a literacy interventionist.  I am in that tight spot where I see my expectations through my student's eyes.  When they have neglected to read something I have assigned, do I focus on haranguing the student, or do I focus on solutions, try to help the student prioritize and find the time to read?


Is there a solution for me?  Should I attend the Thursday night book club meeting, or is that a disservice to my fellow book club members if I can not fully discuss the book?  Or do I snuggle in Thursday night for a book club of one, perhaps with a cup of tea or glass of wine.  I am conflicted.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Favorite





Favorite

She leans on the counter because she is exhausted.  For the past 3-4 years she has not been sleeping well, her family suspects her cluster of hospitalizations, strange schedules and strange medications have altered something in her sleep patterns.  Last night contained less than 3 hours of sleep.  The day spent in the sun was productive and special since the family was together.  But as she prepares dinner her normal method of preparing dinner (open a box) combats with her desire to create a special meal.  But she will stick with her plan to make a meal she has prepared for her husband for nearly 52 years.  On special occasions and on nights when life was routine and ordinary.

Every part of the meal is from scratch.  She recalls times when she and her husband were in a hobby farm phase and even raised their own chickens.  Short of milling her own flour, which she will never, this is one of the most labor intensive meals she makes.

She washes and dries the chicken, boneless breasts, the canvas for her masterpiece.  As her daughter peels potatoes for tonights mashed potatoes and homemade gravy (her specialty) she applies an egg wash then flour and herb breading.  The blend of spices is magic and unique; she knows there is no mix or packet that will be as good.  With a balance of rosemary, basil, nutmeg and a few spices she hasn't shared with anyone, she performs the trick most cooks wouldn't think of.  Second verse, same as the first.  The chicken is double dipped, egg and coating start to glue up but she knows this is part of the magic.

She fries the chicken in olive oil slowly at first to cook the chicken throughly; Phil doesn't like raw chicken.  As the dinner hour is imminent, she will increase the heat for a crisp, caramelized coating.  Each person will want at least two pieces.

Lastly, the icing on the cake, the gravy on the chicken.  Ten minutes before she will feed her family this special meal, she plates the chicken so she can transform what other cooks might throw away.  Her daughter, the foodie, would call the brown crumbs, residual oil, and chicken juices "fond", as the French do.  With milk, the herbed flour, and constant attention, she creates the gravy.  Phil always says he'll stay married to her because no other woman can make gravy like she does.  And she never plans to share this recipe, not even with her children.

Time for dinner.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Song of Life




John Denver

I have been thinking a lot about John Denver today.  The local PBS station was showing an old documentary about him a couple of days ago.  He was a very important part of my childhood.  He was the first artist whose music transcended my parent's music and my music to become OUR music.  I have very few childhood memories that don't contain his music playing in the background.

When I was very young I am told I was very fond of sitting in the backseat of the family sedan and singing, "Take me home, country roooooooad" at the top of my lungs with my head thrown back.  Every other summer we drove down roads embraced on both sides by cornfields and the melody I hear is all John Denver.  Years later when I heard the lyrics to "Matthew" I was certain he knew my family and our trips.

Yes, and joy was just a thing that he was raised on,
love was just a way to live and die.
Gold was just a windy Kansas wheat field,

blue was just the Kansas summer sky.

Fast forward to my early adolescence.  I was beginning to understand just how troubled of an individual my charismatic, bewildering brother was.  His behavior was spiraling out of control and the alcoholism that has plagued him his whole life was rocking my home and my parent's marriage.  The only peace my brother seemed to find was in escaping city life and hiking off the grid on the Grand Mesa, a Colorado gem only one hour from our home.  And as much as I was convinced I hated him, whenever "Rocky Mountain High" played, for nearly five minutes I could empathize with my brother and even feel I understood one facet of who he is.

And my most poignant memory of John Denver's music still makes my cry.  My parents marriage has spanned more than a half century.  For large chunks of time my father's job took him on the road while my mother kept the home fires burning.  He hated being away from his wife and children.  I recall him being nearly impossible to get along with in the twenty-four hours preceding his departure.  Once I happened to ask my mother why his visits home began so joyously but ended in monosyllables and tension.  She didn't answer, just adjusted the eight track tape player to "Goodbye Again."

If your hours are empty now, who am I to blame?
Do you think if I were always here, our love would be the same?
As it is, the time we have is worth the time alone.
And lying by your side's the greatest peace I've ever known, and it's goodbye again,
Goodbye again, as if you didn't know, it's goodbye again,

and I wish you could tell me, why do we always fight when I have to go?


Everyone has songs that played a big part of their childhood, how they felt about their lives, how the world operated and how to operate in it.  I am fortunate John Denver was around to write and sing songs that brought me joy and understanding, as well as synchronicity with in my family.  Bless you, John!

***I hope I have not violated any rules by quoting these songs in a blog.  In no way do I intend other than to share his genius and to bring attention to his skill.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Gratitude



GRATITUDE

Existence
My Health
Company
Solitude
Family I Have
Family I've Lost
Genealogy
The Internet
A Friend Who Keeps Me Honest
A Friend Who Expects More
A Friend Who Taught Me How to Give Back
Self Value
My Home
Hospitality
School
Spring Break
No Car Payments
The Ability to Pay Car Payments
The Dogs I've Had
The Dog I Have
Being A Little Girl Who Saved Herself
Children Who Need Me
A Heart For Children

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Wonder that is Portlandia



The Wonder that is Portlandia

If I'm lucky and a really good girl I hope to live in Portland, Oregon someday.  I loved the Pacific Northwest long before the show Portlandia debuted.  This is the valentine of a show starring Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein.  I love the off-beat whimsy, snarkyness, but affection in each skit.  One of the skits I love kept portraying weirdos.  Eccentricity is celebrated not derided. 

But as I watch a couple of episodes of Portlandia on IFC tonight, I am reminded of all of the unique parts of my hometown in western Colorado that I would miss.  When I was a child there was a man called Speedo Man in my town.  As you could probably guess, he sported nothing but a Speedo bathing suit and tennis shoes.  He rode a ten-speed bike and frequented every festival and concert.  Parents and children were particularly disconcerted when he approached them, especially short children.

Once my father drove by a man standing on a street corner in an expensive business suit.  The remarkable thing was the man was also eating his own necktie.  And my parent's home near a local interstate highway always attracts stranded motorists with personal stories that are heartwarming and truly bizarre.

One of my favorite places in town is our library.  Each visit brings a smile to my face at the cornucopia of humanity.  Elderly couples fighting and exchanging profanity.  A woman in a designer suit inquiring about 50 Shades of Gray and a book on Yorkshire Terriers.

Two of my closest but weirdest friends are two women who may or may not be life partners.  The youngest is ten years older than me, the older is older than my parents.  They own a local funky coffee shop where local free thinkers meet to discuss conspiracies and feed each other's neurosis.  It is not unusual for them to gift me with a bag of clothes purloined from the local soup kitchen, or an expensive bottle of liquor (I assume they paid for it).  Even when we don't understand each other, they are fun and have taught me so much.

What wonderful diversity our species contains and what surreal human lives we are living.  Some days feel like I'm living in a Salvador Dali or Frida Kahlo painting, and I wouldn't wish any part away.  I am reminded by the song lyrics "I love this crazy-tragic-sometimes-almost-magic, awful beautiful life."


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Say What?







Say What?

Have you ever said something that you thought would make others think well of you, think that you are cool or funny, or even just that you were so tough they should not mess with you?  Then have you been mortified to learn that what you said has a whole other meaning? 

Someone once told me you can control what you say but you can't control what the other person hears.  And as a teacher I have taken this to heart.  My family still laughs at a vulgar name I called my mom by accident.  Saying it wasn't accidental.  But I had heard my filthy older brother and his filthy friends call each other the name.  I assumed it meant jerk or nerd.  But after I said it to my mother and she picked her jaw up off of the floor, I was pretty sure it didn't mean nerd or jerk.

For all the reasons I wrote above, I will be called on to show mercy to one of my students.  He called me "punk".  I have had loved ones who have been incarcerated, and consequently know better than to call anyone that name.  But he showed his lack of knowledge and life experience today.  Okay, so here's a teachable moment.  I didn't tell him the meaning of the word, but rather suggested he speak to a parent about a) the meaning, and b) the foolishness of calling a teacher that name.

As I digest the events of this day, I hope I taught him a lesson in patience and kindness, just like my mom taught me all those years ago.  Just paying it forward.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Fleeting




Fleeting

*** Warning: This post contains unabashed sentimentality. ***

My dog Ellie gets most of my affection.  With a career that can be stressful, no children and no spouse, she is a bright spot in my life.  She is quite old and the beauty that is her life force has convinced me that elderly dogs are just as good, perhaps better than, puppies.

But I have a fun, and costly, development in my life.  I am buying a new car after driving a less than reliable vehicle.  I have owned my current car for thirteen years.  So today I had to prepare to exchange my old car for my new.

I am one of those people for whom a cleaning person would do no good because I would probably clean my home before he/she came over, lest he/she think I am sloppy.  So, I not only de-cluttered my car, I also washed, vacuumed, and hung an air freshener in my car.  I also cleaned the windows of my car for the first time in many months.  Can’t have the mechanics and detailers at the used car lot thinking I am a slob.


As I swabbed the car windows I felt a strange wave of sentimentality.  I was washing away Ellie’s nose prints and thinking how quickly everything seems to be changing.  I am a realist and realize I won’t be able to live with Ellie for thirteen more years.  I wonder how many thousands of nose prints I will wash off of the windows of my new car.  I come to the realization that even if I washed off ten million, it still would not be enough.  And the resolution I come to, is how lucky we are to have loved ones to shower our love on, be they two or four legged.


Monday, March 9, 2015

Love at All Costs











HONEY


She was just what my mother wanted, but she was also very tiny.  I was in high school and in my excitement to fulfill my mother's Christmas wish I didn't stop to ask questions, such as, "Is this puppy weaned from her mama?"  I was unaware most people with knowledge of dogs agree there is a six week minimum age before a puppy should leave her mother.  This tiny, tawny colored Cocker Spaniel puppy had been born on Thanksgiving.  Now she was leaving her mama on Christmas Eve due to my hope to make my mama happy.

By the time I got home with the dog I had noticed she wasn't very energetic.  But my father saw me in the driveway, knew something was rotten in Denmark and told me to go in to speak with my mother.  The die was cast.  As I handed mom her dog I wondered if this was going to be her best gift yet or her worst.  I explained my reservations about the puppy while mom whipped up some good home cooking, puppy gruel.  To our surprise the puppy, soon to be given the moniker Honey, ate and ate and ate.  Soon her tummy bulged and she scampered into the living room to fall asleep between two of my father's enormous boots.

She turned out to be one of moms best gift ever, and a blessing in our life for nearly ten years.  But I learned the tremendous responsibility of caring for an animal and the potential for burdening family as well as injuring an animal.  I have never again given a living creature as a gift.  But every time I smell puppy breath I think about our sweet girl.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

A Big Sigh




It is funny how life can seem like a storm, and other times it can seem like the sun that chases the storm away.  I have been so busy today that I have felt overwhelmed.  The very reason I don't "multitask" is because I feel like for me that is code for "simultaneously doing several things poorly."  For that reason I am grateful for a quiet Sunday.  While I know my life and opportunities are blessings not to be wished away, I also appreciate a day of solitude.

As the hour for bed approaches, I am catching the news while my dog takes a pre-bedtime nap.  With lunch packed for a week, ninety-nine percent of my laundry done, and some great family developments (to be blogged later), I am nested and pleased.

I can do this, I will be what my students need, and will stay fully present in the moments this week holds for me.

Saturday, March 7, 2015





BRAVERY

Acts of bravery can be a matter of life or death.  They can be done by powerful adults who understand the risk their courage could involve.  They can be splashy, dramatic and witnessed by thousands, or even millions of people.  I witnessed an act of bravery that was none of the above.

I teach middle school, probably because my middle school years weren’t easy to navigate and good teachers were part of what made those years bearable.  And due to a medical problem and a cocktail of prescribed drugs, my eighth grade year was overwhelmingly negative, with one exception.

As eighth grade started a new girl started school at my middle school.  She hovered on the edges of my group of friends, but my feelings toward her were neutral.  There came a weekend and THE PARTY.  You know, the kind of slumber party extravaganza you think will make or break you socially.  Despite an invitation and much begging, I was unable to attend due to a family event.

The following Monday my best friend, CB, asked me, “Do you know that girl DS?”  When I answered not really, she replied, “Well, she knows you.”  Bracing myself, I listened to CB tell how the girls sat gossiping and my name came up.  Some pretty brutal things were said about my weight, my looks, even my “drug” habit.  In hindsight, I am fairly certain CB joined in.  I was unprepared when CB said that DS defended me, telling the other girls they were wrong, she liked me and thought I was cool and nice.

In a life changing moment I simultaneously realized I would not have had her courage to be a free thinker and to check others opinions and I knew I wanted to be all of the things DS thought I was.  I sought her out.  I emulated her in many ways and she was my best friend through the next six years.

Time and poor decisions on both of our parts strained our friendship and we will never have the same relationship.  But we live in the same town, share the same profession, are Facebook friends.  And DS, every time I see my female students trying to balance being cool with being kind, I think of you and love you.


Jen

Friday, March 6, 2015

Family




Family

I am the baby of my family and the only girl.  When I moved back to my hometown after many years of being in a large city, my rational mind knew my parents might someday need me as they aged.  But my heart was not prepared.  As my parents migrated west from Kansas and South Dakota they left their parents behind so I was rarely exposed to older people and the realities of aging.

In January 2011 my mother began experiencing severe abdominal pain, alarming bruising, and her first hospitalization in nearly thirty-seven years.  My mother began swimming in a haze of pain and medication, a swim she would repeat many times in the next eighteen months.

My family needed me and in the coming months I tried to help as much as possible.  I started shopping for my parents, running errands, doing chores, keeping house.  In some ways, I was and am amazed at my strength.  However, in quiet moments I felt guilt because of my limitations.  I thought I could keep up with maintaining my parents ten acre farm.  However, with no experience with the equipment and my own home to keep, I fell short, I failed.


My family has grown closer, we are more liberal with endearments and “I love yous”.  And my mother’s health is stabilized.  But those months haunt me and in my dark moments I know they were merely a dress rehearsal for the years to come.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

My One Hundred Shades of Gray






The night is turning colder as I drive away from my friends and responsibilities.  In actuality I will be away from responsibility for precisely eleven minutes as I drive across town then am assailed by responsibility again.

But I feel the freedom as I careen down the Monument Road listening to Crazy Train by Ozzy Osbourne.  Then in a moment of sublime incongruity, the song changes to a Celine Dion song as I notice the sky.  As a storm rolled across my high desert valley the darkened suburb and the lights of the mid-size town I live in meet in layers upon layers of clouds.  There are shades of gray I didn't realize existed in the sky.  Negotiating hills and other cars, it is hard to keep my eyes on the road and off of the most gorgeous night sky I have ever seen.  It is magic.

This makes me examine the irony that I didn't want to leave my home on a stormy night but if I had not, I would have missed this amazing spectacle.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Becoming a Writer



Becoming a Writer

I took someone new to bed last night (and she bears a strong resemblance to me).  She's a writer, but doesn't know it yet.  I mean, she has a powerful voice as well as a Texas-sized case of blog-fright.  Like most writers, she stifles herself because she is certain (rightly so) that regardless of the topic there are many others who know more than she.  But ALL writers, be they 6 or 106, must hear the uniqueness of their voice.  We're all allowed a place in the sun, right?

She is parsing her words, questioning whether her grammar is correct, and loving the zing from mind to hand to page.  To all tentative writers and SOL (Slice of Life) newbies, she I hope you have a great March.  Let's play!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Ebb & Flow









Ebb and Flow

So, recently a teaching colleague convinced me to participate in the Slice of Life month of blogging, March 2015.  It didn’t take much convincing.  I am a new teacher and one of the newest staff members at a middle school.  I believe passionately in modeling for my students the use and mastery of the skills I teach.  So, I leapt at the chance.

But, when I dug into blogging a bit more I learned I have had a blog since 2009, http://speakingslowly-oicurcrazy2.blogspot.com/.  I was gob smacked.  Once I saw my one and only blog post I was teleported back in time to a lonely and aimless summer when I participated in a free class at our public library teaching how to blog.  I promise to do a better job of blogging this time, at least for the 31 days of March.

As I read my previous post, I was humbled and grateful for the progress in my life since summer 2009.  At that time I had a newly minted teaching license that I doubted I would ever get to use.  The town I live in has a limited number of teaching positions and those few have little turn-over.  But I have successfully worked in education, added to my skills and resume, and as of seven months ago, become a staff member at a local middle school.


But in every life, a little rain must fall.  I grew up quite a bit since 2009.  My mother became ill, requiring numerous hospitalizations and surgeries.  For the first time in my life I saw how fragile my parents are.  My intellect has always understood that my parents and I are aging and not immortal.  But now I have heard the quiet only a hospital room contains.  Now I have seen the pain and fear on a loved one’s face right before they wheel her into surgery.  While I am grateful to say I still have both of my parents and we are closer than ever, I am much more conscious of how fleeting the times with family can be.  To quote Gretchen Rubin, “The days are long but the years are short.”  So go hug somebody you love, will ya?