Friday, December 27, 2013


I've been feeling churlish of late and I know it's because I'm basically Gorilla-glued to the heavy boot that is helping to stabilize my broken right ankle for the next--Jesus, take the wheel!--six weeks. Now daily movement constitutes a humbling experience for someone like me who cannot even stand to walk in the general vicinity of slow people because: 1)  I am easily irritated by slow walking 2) I don't like being late to wherever I'm going  3) I fear that walking slowly forces me to appear aimless, and 4) Again with the irritation.

It's worth mentioning the irritation twice simply because there is so much of it. However, because I've also been referred to as a "Type A personality" twice in one week, it appears that I'm going to have to pump the brakes on my sucky attitude with regard to my sudden medical house arrest status. Toward that end, I've lovingly assigned a name to my boot and it will henceforth be known to all as Lurch. For reasons I should not have to explain.

Christmas Day was a jumble of emotions. On the side of GOOD: Having all the kids home at one time for 24 hours. On the BAD side: All the food! Lord Jesus, lead me to someone whose love language isn't fried, smothered in gravy or doing the backstroke in a pool of melted butter. And the conveyer belt of sweets (Not to mention the loving little gifts from students at the beginning of the holiday) is going to force me into an impromptu case of the "diabeetus" or simply render me all trembly from  the sugar shakes. As soon as I stop eating. It's all made worse by the fact that Lurch does not allow me to generate the body heat necessary to burn more than a calorie every other month. I do what I can by crying hysterically, but tears don't weigh as much as sweat. It's a scientific fact, people. Look it up.

In other news, I learned that it is possible to nearly burn down your house by putting two slices of bacon into a microwave  (One that has an unfortunate habit of resetting itself so that 7 minutes becomes 70) and then wandering off and forgetting about it. Exhibit A: The smoking mechanical heap currently gracing our courtyard outside and Exhibit B: The smell of burning plastic throughout the house.

And this puzzler: A childhood friend of my husband's came by on Christmas Day evening and brought a small gift wrapped package that he said was specifically for me from his parents. They wanted--no--insisted--that he give it to me. Behold: A kitchen sponge for pots and pans. 

Because nothing says We are thinking about you during the holidays, special person, like an implement for removing stubborn food particles from cookware.

I cannot even begin to speculate why they wanted me to have this. Nor if they meant to suggest what this gift implies when you consider that my husband and sons received maps and music CDs. It's important to add that both of these people really do like me and neither is currently suffering from dementia. I confess that I'm stumped.

And finally....some advice from me to you. If you decide one evening to surf the internets in hope of ordering some sweaters that will spruce up your jeans-only work wardrobe while your bum ankle heals and you do a search for "oversized bohemian sweaters for women"? Please confirm that the sweater you ordered is not being manufactured in China and modeled on a very petite Chinese teenager and that said sweater is not being shipped from China. Why? Because what looks oversized on a headless photograph of a female model whose country of origin is not known for its tall citizens, will--in fact--fit  easily inside a quart-sized plastic mailer and the result will not be at all flattering to your 5'8" frame.

 I am now the proud owner of a sweater that would look perfect on a Cabbage Patch Doll.  Hope your Christmas was merry. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Holding Pattern

In years past my Christmas Eve day was often a flurry of last minute wrapping the crap out of gifts, five trips to the grocery store and cleaning my brokedown palace of a house in anticipation of a traditionally major family celebration, the preparation of which rendered me just shy of being Liza Minnelli crazy.

Today, however, I'm settled in front of a Christmas episode of "That Girl"  while eating celery and drinking a Pinterest recommended fat cell flush of ice water, cucumber, lemon, lime and mint. Not because I'm attempting a different kind of nervous breakdown--but because I broke my ankle two weeks ago in an epic fall in the icy teacher's parking lot and--in the process--lost most of my dignity and self respect. And most of my mobility.

It's a terrible time to be sidelined and it's tempting to express my despondence by lying on the sofa huddled in a slanket while hopped up on butterscotch schnapps and Tramadol. Instead I'm crutching about with my black boot which is the fashion equivalent of pantyhose and white sandals and somehow getting it all done.

I'd love to whine about everything I can't do for the next two months, but I'm too medicated to move and it's not the season for whining anyway. Merry Christmas, readers. The art of blogging may be dying, but I'm going to limp along regardless. Take care.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Unsolved Mysteries...Solved

               The fitness movement had a Hit Parade?

Do you ever have one of those days where a moment from your long ago past is accidentally uncovered and you can't believe that you ever forgot it because it was so unusual or important at the time? My husband refers to this as "The Closet". He believes that there's a closed closet in your brain containing all the things you've experienced and forgotten and you mostly forget that the closet even exists, until some stray thought or event opens that door and you're presented with this perfect slice of time that you didn't even remember you had. This happened to me last week.

So, I'm in the 5th grade. It's a crisp fall day as we file into the slab floored and corrugated metal building that my school used for PE class. My hair is in pig-tails and I'm probably wearing a jumper with shorts underneath because that's what girls did in those days before gym suits were required. Our PE teacher is a tiny chain-smoking leprechaun of a woman named Mrs. Benny whose daily uniform consisted of a powder blue Adidas track suit, Keds and a police whistle.

Regardless of what drill or skill we were learning on any given day, Mrs. Benny was always big on warming up with "old school" exercises. Deep knee bends, toe touches, arm spins...the works. One day, and I can't even remember when it started, she switched on the record player, ordered us to line up in rows with an arm's length between us on either side and a roomful of 5th graders began marching in place to the mysterious "chicken fat" song.

I say mysterious because, even though I heard this song at least four times per week and for two years afterwards, I never understood what it meant. Didn't know what chicken fat was (unless it was attached to the meat course at dinner) and had no idea why I was doing push ups with this tune as the background music. The man singing it had a big, booming, look at me! show-tune kind of voice and his delivery did seem oddly familiar as he articulated what a daily exercise regimen should look like.

As I struggled to execute my sit-ups in time with the cheerful rhythm of the music, the only image that ever came to mind was that of a plucked chicken jumping rope while wearing a hat. Pity me, readers. This was back in the day before any kids had ever even heard of the word cellulite or adipose.

Mrs. Benny would stroll around the gym giving the side eye to any slackers and would sometimes attempt to model jumping jacks until a tubercular-style coughing jag brought her flailing to a halt. Unlike the male athletic coaches of later years whose physiques were more of a cautionary tale for the students they taught, Mrs. Benny was as thin as a Vanilla Wafer, but also as dark and sun-wrinkled as a piece of beef jerky. She loved a good joke, but could quickly decide when it was over, and her terrifying visage could scare the donut holes out of even the worst kid. At first, "chicken fat" seemed as though it could be one of those jokes, but after two years of "Go--you chicken fat--go away!", there was clearly something we were supposed to have learned from it. I confess that I never did. Until last week.

During a conversation with my husband about something that I can no longer remember, the door of "The Closet" swung open and a dusty crumb of a memory caused me to I ask him if he had ever done exercises to the song about chicken fat. He looked at me funny and said that he had not. I was forced to turn to my boyfriend, Google, who quickly swept back the cobwebs of time and revealed something pretty astonishing to me. Others had been doing their side bends in fear of the dreaded chicken fat also.

The song had gone by another name: The "Youth Fitness Song". Words and music were provided by Meredith Willson, who had also written the score for "The Music Man". The singer with the booming voice who critiqued our spastic moves as though he was watching from behind a two-way mirror was Robert Preston, Broadway's original Music Man. What's more, the song had been commissioned for President Kennedy's Physical Fitness program of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and  copies had been sent out to all elementary schools during that era, though Kennedy had been dead for years by the time I did my first toe touch while listening to it.

Like all naive and sheltered kids, I had too easily assumed ours was the only school required to get into good shape while un-ironically listening to a song about a crucial member of the food pyramid. And because were probably the only ones being taught to run relays by someone who looked as though she had fallen off of a box of Lucky Charms but who--if provoked--had enough moxie to kick an old man down a flight of stairs, I never questioned it or her.

Clearly, I lived in a vacuum, but it only took a quick and unexpected trip into the closet in my brain to show that we had actually been participants in a nation-wide phenomenon. True I didn't know it then, but sometimes late is better than never.

Everyone has a memory closet. What has yours revealed to you?

P.S: I went on to win the President's Physical Fitness award for the two years it was offered during middle school, though I can say with confidence that the fear of chicken fat had nothing to do with it.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Hanging Up

I think my friend is losing her mind. Has lost her mind. There doesn't seem to be anything I can do about it, but what's worse? I don't know that I even want to.

Having grown up in different parts of the same state, we met as juniors in college when we applied for the same campus job. Our dorm complex advertised for 12 people to work at the 24- hour reception desk in the main lobby. We were both hired.

She always seemed more resourceful than me. She had more interesting and profitable summer jobs, dated guys with whom she didn't get too hung up on when the relationship ended and exhibited an upbeat and happy exterior. She never stressed about anything.  As a Marketing major she was practically guaranteed to make more money than someone like me who was naively but stubbornly majoring in Secondary Education.  When we weren't at school or work we would meet up with others for pitchers of beer at a well-known bar on the north side of campus and occasionally, she and I went for a run. She was not my best friend, but there seemed to be at the time a sort of dormant potential for something deeper.

We kept in touch after graduation. Long-distance phone calls and weekend visits where I did the traveling. She introduced me to Gary Larsen's "Far Side" cartoons and demonstrated how she could prompt herself to wake up at a designated time without the use of an alarm clock. I was perpetually poor and envied the occasional modeling gigs which augmented her regular paycheck and the generic good looks which photographers seemed to go for. The last time we saw each other as single women we shopped, took a long run through a wooded park, and spent the afternoon at her apartment pool. I returned to my tiny studio apartment tanned, rested and clutching a recording of "Songs From the Big Chair".

I married and had a family. Several years later, she did the same and then moved to California. I met her husband only one time when they were in town for a golf tournament and he seemed like a nice enough guy. By then we touched bases only at Christmas, except for the time when her father died and I had just called out of the blue. Come to think of it, I was always the one who called. She was staying at her parent's home and I remember cradling the phone with one hand and stooping to straighten the Batman comforters on the boy's bunk beds as we talked. After that...she sort of disappeared.

In those early days of the internet, picking up the trail of a woman with a new last name (Damn tradition and the loss of identity!) was not that easy. Seven or eight years had passed and after quite a bit of digging, the reasons for which I don't entirely understand now, I discovered that she and her family had returned to our home state and she was living 45 minutes away. As always, I made the first move to visit.

She was different. Still the same, but then not. Enthusiastic one minute and then brittle and dismissive the next. Why had I never noticed her dislike for progressive politics? How ruthlessly concrete her ideas were about who was ruining the country! How easily she served up Jesus as the answer to everything with one hand while using the other to pour sour judgement over any thought which did not line up with hers? There seemed to be no middle ground. We ate lunch at a trendy cafe/grocery and she told me about her new start up furniture business, but it was during a long walk that I first noticed how infrequently she asked me about my own life and how anything I did say seemed to spark random torrents of unrelated words from her. I might start a sentence or  a story and she would interrupt with a steady flow of  stridently declarative expositions--one after the other-- with only the briefest of pauses for a breath in between to change topics. Complaints about her husband. A veritable fatwa against all social media. That day a shy word tapped lightly at the back of my brain, but it wasn't until later that--much like one of those old Polaroids that took some time to completely develop--showed itself: manic? The afternoon was exhausting and by the time I left, I felt somewhat certain that I would not seek her out her again.

Except...of course...I did. This past summer I dug in again. The internet offered up so little that I found myself wondering if she had divorced her husband and the cell number I had was no longer valid. Surprisingly, I found a bare bones Facebook account for her. It didn't even have a photograph. I sent a message and eventually she replied with a new cell number and a few months later I used it to call. I regret that now.

She was angry when she answered the phone. Almost shouting. Not at me, but I had apparently caught her in the middle of an emotional tirade as she was driving. She verbally skirted past the preliminary niceties typically used in phone conversations. Did I know that she had nearly died last year after surgery? I did not. Didn't I think husbands should be more supportive of their wives? With no real background information as to why she would ask,  I agreed that this was so. Why would a husband call his wife stupid in front of their children and give her a series of orders ending with the phrase, "Do it because I said so". To this I replied that her husband was not her boss and that marriage did not give a man the right to tell his wife how to live her life.

She exploded. "I have chosen to live a servant's life in obedience to my husband!" she yelled. "This is how God wants wives to behave!" I told her that I did not hold with that view of marriage, but even in cases where a relationship is forged within these guidelines, there were rules for both people and not just the wife. She did not seem to hear me because she was on to the next topic. It was as though she was swinging through the jungle from vine to vine-- grabbing onto the next thought and the one after it. Her kids did not respect her. She felt abused. Physically? She said not. "They" were ganging up on her. She asked if I knew a lawyer she could contact. Before I could answer she was talking about her mother and her sisters. They? Were siding with her husband.

She had been "homeless" for a week, but living in a hotel. Then, in an apartment. She'd spent Thanksgiving alone because no one wanted to be around her. She was sure there was a conspiracy against her. Her husband was telling her that she spent too much money. She lamented not having done anything to support her family, a remark which seemed a far cry from all the ventures I knew she had pursued. She had gone to her pastor for advice and during the meeting, grabbed the woman to demonstrate what she thought her husband was saying or doing. The pastor? Called the police. On her. Not out of concern that my friend was truly the victim of abuse (which I am now fairly certain she is not), but because the pastor (a female) thought she was in the presence of a dangerously unstable woman. My friend would ask me a random question and before I could answer she was shouting again.

"People are telling me I need medication!" my friend said  "I just think I need a husband who will fix the broken doorknob on the bathroom." (?) "I think a good husband should love his wife on all days and not just when she's having a good day, don't you?" Yes, but--  "I think I'm going to call my daughter and see if she will go shopping with me." She was calmer now and using a totally different voice. "Maybe we can go buy snow suits together. Maybe she will want to come to my apartment and play in the snow with some kids there. I know I want to play with some kids...." She faded off. It is important to note that at the moment she was saying this, icy roads were predicted for our area...but no snow. And the daughter of whom she spoke is a senior in high school. Do you know any 18 year old girl who wants to dress up in a snowsuit and then drive to her mother's apartment to play in the snow with "kids" she does not know?

I stood there in the middle of my kitchen watching through the windows as the cold darkness of evening closed in. I listened to my old college friend ramble about her sister staying for a weekend at a lake house (Theirs? Hers?) and then not inviting her. This was followed by more talk about their house and how it was a bad investment. That her husband did not seem to want her anymore, but she was also unwilling--despite her bid for obedience--to bend to his will since it was clearly wrong. I tried to follow the dizzying see-saw of her thoughts about her son and how she had not seen him recently. I asked her if he wasn't away at college and after a long pause she answered "yes" in a soft voice. Then she told me she was calling up everyone she had not seen in years and decided that they would be her new friends and support system. How she was driving home now from a trip to Costco. To her house or her apartment? She said yes but did not distinguish which was her destination. "Don't you think it's important to fix a crack in the pool?" she asked suddenly. "My mother told my husband that I'm not making any sense. How am I supposed to live when no one respects what I am saying? I can't believe my husband would expect me to fix dinner for him after I've been in the hospital. " You mean--right after you got out? "I mean that I never get any support and that my own children have turned against me."

 I continued holding the phone to my ear and while she delivered a jumbled collection of unrelated questions and statements about food and the status of a house she wasn't living in. About people plotting behind her back and then her plans for shopping.  Finally, when there was a pause in the flow of words, I told her I needed to go and that we would keep in touch.  And then I hung up.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Snow Forecast Promises To Foul Up My Christmas Shopping Plans. Bless It!

I have started the first sentence of this post five times and I've erased it just as many. Nothing sounds good to me tonight, though the words in my head all sounded quite brilliant when I was running at the track today. Or when I was unloading groceries for the sixth time in as many days. Ditto for when I stumbled over a big bag of English I compositions that I brought home nine days (five school days bookended by two weekends) ago with the best of intentions to grade. I could have started a fire with all of those thoughts. They were that good.

But today? Stella definitely can't get her groove back and I think it's mostly due to the fact that OMG BATTLE STATIONS!! it's already December 1st.   My school holiday starts a scant three days before Christmas Eve, which means I have three weeks until I am actually free to get ready for Christmas. I don't have to tell you that by the time it is 4:20 p.m on December 20th it will be the time to start drinking heavily too late. I also realize that this is as long as anybody else who celebrates Christmas has to get ready, so don't think I'm asking for any special sympathy here. We're all in the same boat.

I could have started getting ready for Christmas earlier, but that's the unholy conflict that a late Thanksgiving brings about with its seductive lure of that extra week to prepare and plan...for Thanksgiving. It just feels strange to get ready for one holiday when the one prior to it hasn't even happened yet.  Yet, the minute that last slice of pie has been served up--and even before the dishes are done--it's technically already the Christmas season. Deny it all you want, but it will do you no good. Me? I'm determined not to panic about it this year. One thing I do know is that everything important always gets done. Eventually. Tree up, cards addressed, gifts wrapped and lights all along the roofline. So what is this post even about if not to bitch relentlessly about all the stuff I still haven't done as I do every year?

I'm going to focus on all of the things I did do during my Thanksgiving break. I finished a fantastic book and started another one. I wrote two blog posts and third for another website. I had dinner with friends and another one with family. I bought Christmas cards and gingerbread-style stamps to go on the envelopes. I worked on Christmas lists. We walked the dogs. I spent time with two of my three kids. I went to yoga and I ran. I visited my favorite junk shop. I made yeast-rising cinnamon rolls and FedEx-ed them to the sons who live away. I polished all the tarnished silver. I started eating more Paleo and less "crappio". I spent quality time with my husband. I walked along the river with an old friend. I watched my favorite Thanksgiving-themed movies, the last being Woody Allen's "Hannah and Her Sisters." I discovered blueberry granola.

And I gave thanks. For still having two living parents and both my in-laws. For the two sisters who always have my back. For funny, smart and compassionate sons who are making their way (some slowly and others not as slowly) in the world. For their jobs or the prospect of jobs. For the ability to provide higher education for our sons so that they will not experience the drain of paying off student loans. For a husband I adore who is also my best friend. For a job which is frequently maddening and--sometimes--surprisingly-- rewarding. For the advantage of possessing more than one skill in the event that the maddening eclipses the rewarding and I leave the teaching profession for good. For a full pantry, a car with a full tank, a roof that does not leak and a house full of books.

And for snow.  As long as it doesn't show up until after Christmas.

Monday, November 25, 2013

I'm in a "Nora" York State of Mind

It started with "Crazy Salad". I was in college and despite all that higher learning, I had not  yet grown into my own mind and was certainly not confident about thinking my own thoughts. However, it was clear that the author of the little Bantam paperback I purchased for $1.95 was very much in possession of her thoughts and she did a good job of sharing them. The book was dedicated to her sisters and it was forwarded by a quote from Yeats:
                                      It's certain that fine women eat 
                                      A crazy salad with their meat.

 I fell immediately and madly in love with Nora Ephron.

I have every book Nora ever wrote and I believe I am also correct in thinking that I have seen every movie she has written or directed. Even the not-so-good ones. When she died a year ago this past summer--and I was sitting right where I'm sitting now when I read the news blurb and I blinked several times, because I felt so sure (and at the same time so dreadfully unsure) that I was reading it wrong--a little bit of my world caved in.

Years ago my sister introduced me to one of her favorite movies, which quickly became one of my favorite movies: "Desk Set". Nora's parents, Henry and Phoebe Ephron, wrote the screenplay for it and when I made this connection, it only intensified the abiding respect I had for my girl Nora. In writing about those same parents, she was honest about their alcoholism and philosophically forthcoming about their distracted methods of parenting four girls without drawing out the obvious drama that must  have provided the background noise for her unfolding life. Ditto for being married to that hot philandering mess of a husband -- Carl Bernstein. Nora's newfound religion was something she called, "Get Over It" and this she did by throwing her considerable energies into crafting a book about the episode and moving on.

I vacillated monthly between wishing desperately to be Nora Ephron's friend...or simply to be HER. On that aforementioned June day however , it became patently clear that I would never get to be either one.

Lately, I've been listening to Nora's books through an app on my phone because, even though I'm already familiar with what they say, it's her reassuring voice in my ear while I'm driving to the cleaners or chopping carrots for the soup or when I'm closing the drapes and turning on the lamps against the chill of our currently rainy autumn weather that I relish. It's not just what she says, but it's how she says it with her very deliberate and yet conversational pacing. Listening to her speak her own words is a smooth one-two punch of well considered prose that is rendered like sage advice from an experienced woman who has been there but lightly delivered as though you were just two close friends eating good Chinese dumplings in a crowded restaurant where you both have to lean in close over the table to hear and be heard.

I'm homesick for the way she explained about why her sofa must always be beige or how her mother served crispy potato pancakes with the roast beef.  I've listened to her talk her love affair with the Apthorp when it was rent controlled and and how it's no use getting the skin on your neck fixed unless you go in for a full facelift, which she will definitely not do. There was her addiction to online Scrabble, the pitfalls of becoming a slave to moisturizer and her love of dinner with friends. There were the accounts of her early years working for Newsweek magazine and the end of her parents' lives with her dying mother in her hospital bed reminding her daughter to take notes because "everything is copy".

She offered up recipes for fail-proof egg salad, ricotta pancakes, and meatloaf as well as tips for grilling steak with a big pat of butter on the top, which--interestingly enough-- is exactly how my grandmother used to do it. But it was the last section of "I Remember Nothing" which offered up the eerily prescient remarks wherein she itemized the things in life she would miss. As though Nora knew --and it turns out that she did know--that she not have long to live. Among those things: her husband, fall, her kids, twinkle lights, reading in bed, Pride and Prejudice, waffles, Thanksgiving dinner, the park, the view out the window, and coming over the bridge to Manhattan.

Nora's second to last book revealed how very bad she felt about her neck and I understand it.  I feel bad about mine too, though mostly I just feel bad that I've lost my sherpa in all matters, neck and otherwise. The hopeful prospect of visiting the Shake Shack on my next trip to NYC and patiently waiting for her to wander in for a custard is no longer even a remote possibility, but I suppose she would shake a finger at me for allowing her absence from the planet to prevent me from enjoying the city that she loved--that I love--so much. And she would be right. The point is to keep appreciating and notating the good stuff in life. Because, in the world according to Nora Ephron, even the bad things are worth writing about.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Yes, I Would Like Fries With That.

I can't stop thinking about food and clothes these days. If you knew me when I was a skinny kid, you'd know I was a frustratingly picky eater born to a mother and father raised in the Great Depression. By the age of seven I could quote you chapter and verse regarding my Southern mother's memories of rationing stamps and my Yankee father's sad saga of meals where there was no meat to eat. Only beans. To my young ears it sounded like a nightmare, albeit THEIR nightmare. At any dinnertime moment, my own personal horror story consisted of three remaining bites of tomato that taunted me from the oily remains of my salad bowl. Dinner was long over and I was alone at the table watching the clock's minute hand creep closer to the deadline my father had set for the consumption of those three red taste bud assassins with their demonic seeds encased in gag-inducing slime. Food was my enemy then.

As a skinny teenager I did not know what a temporary privilege it would be to buy clothes at the 5-7-9 Shop. I had but to eyeball a pair of pants or a blouse from Casual Corner before taking them to the cashier.  My only concern being whether the pants would be long enough to avoid the "flood look" so feared in the 70s. Food was something I ate when I got hungry and nothing more. Clothes either fit or were too large.

Even as a young married I had a pair of favored black pants from The Gap which fit me to perfection and did so before I had babies and then again after I had lost all my baby weight. All this was true for me and yet I believed that this could also be as easily true for everyone else if they just tried. Even though I didn't have to try. It just WAS for me. I ate what I wanted and when I felt I had gone too far, I would simply run it off in during a soccer game or work it off at the gym. I was the Seinfeld-ian "master of my domain". Food-wise, anyway.

At 39 I trained for and ran a marathon and I have a photograph from the following summer vacation where I wore a bikini in public for the very last time. I didn't know it then, but I looked fabulous.  I drank beer on the beach and ate ice cream at night. I was having to work harder to feel normal (thin) but I had the time to do it and youth, plus the slightest overtones of my father's Type A personality helped me keep everything in check.

Then the freight train of middle age hit about the time our kids were in constant "graze" mode. We went through eight gallons of milk and two loaves of bread per week. I was cooking and either writing part time or doing my part as PTA slave. We saw two kids into college and then I went back to teaching while attempting to monitor the last son through high school. I developed an enormous ulcer which tried to kill me and almost succeeded. I was in ICU and then hospitalized with a nasal/gastric tube for another 7+ days, after which I then had to train my stomach to accept food once I was home, one bite at a time. THIS JUST IN: I succeeded!

Where does that leave me now? Hopelessly menopausal and in possession of a metabolism that is slower than an IRS refund and pants which are visibly angry with me. I don't recognize my body or my face. Age and stress are in collusion with what few hormones I have left to make me crave food that I cannot possibly burn and then arrange the results cruelly on a facial structure which--though never beautiful--was once strong and (some said) striking. Despite yoga, everything slops over its original boundaries like that melting watches painting by Salvidor Dali. And all I want to do is eat.

I get a pedicure and--over the scent of acetone, I can smell the Vietnamese noodles the manicurist had for lunch. I want seconds on everything all the time. I actually had a dream about bacon the other night.  Salted popcorn and cashews. Chips with salsa or guacamole. Happiness would be a tankard of wine, followed by a bucket of Ben and Jerry's and a shovel with which to eat it. I eat candy corn while grading papers. I have flashbacks about visiting the Betty Bakery in Boerum Hill during our last Spring Break trip to New York. I have a juicer and dream of replacing one meal with something healthy, but I'm afraid I'm too addicted to chewing to make a go of it. My sister-in-law told me last night that she's gone mostly Paleo in her diet and the results are amazing to behold. But doesn't that mean that planning/shopping/cooking/eating will now require as much energy as my job? The thought of that just makes me want to fall down out of sheer resentment. Fall down into a big bowl of macaroni and cheese. You see my problem, no?

I'm open to any helpful suggestions you might have, dear readers. Meanwhile, I must attend a birthday lunch for my mother whose own "love language" is food. Not eating very much will only send the message that I hate her, am not enjoying myself and that I wish nothing more than to destroy her birthday. But that's another Oprah entirely. What else is there to say but, Bon Appetit?

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Sweater Weather

NOW is usually my favorite time of year. The beginning hurdles of the new school year have been somewhat successfully cleared and the cool weather is settling in nicely. Today I took down all the overtly Halloween-ish decor, turned all the jack-o-lanterns around so as to enjoy another festive month of pumpkins with their visual punctuations of orange, and brought out the turkeys made by little boy hands in pre-school art class all those years ago. The happy echo of Trick-or-Treaters still lingers faintly on the breeze and the end caps on grocery store aisles are now laden with pie filling, shelled pecans, and brown sugar as Thanksgiving looms. Christmas seems--thankfully--far enough away to avoid a panic attack over card sending and gift buying. It's a good in-between place to be.

And yet I can't shake the sad. I've been an empty nester for 13 months, a veteran in that department among a few of my friends, but I have no easy answers that would explain how to navigate that world. No treasure map nor operator's manual showing one how to extend a willing hand to the future while letting go of the nostalgic past. Each day is its own unique sampling of joy or angst and either can show up on my doorstep with little or no warning.

These days, any random memory of holidays with our children--when they were children-- can just as easily provoke tears as they can a smile. Those of you still in the trenches are probably asking if I have lost my mind don't remember the torture of late evenings overseeing countless homework or projects, sitting on cold, aluminum bleachers at yet another school baseball game. The PTA meetings or yet another birthday party for some unknown classmate at the Skate Palace. The OMG! emotional firestorm of adolescent relationships...or  your kid's desire for one when there were none being offered. Of course! I remember all of it as well as wishing for (what seemed to be) mythical time in the future when I didn't have to worry so damned much. Raising kids could sometimes be its own brand of emotional "house arrest" but I can tell you now that the silence when it is over can be just as deafening as the sounds of chaos when we were in the thick of it.

Their empty rooms are so still. Beyond silent. And despite the twice-monthly attentions of vacuum and dust rag? Musty.  Much like a museum filled with relics that no one uses anymore.

Sure, Thanksgiving is coming up. The visiting offspring will arrive armed with boundless energy and stories of people I don't know taking part in events I didn't witness. They will wear clothes I didn't purchase and they will exchange secrets with each other that we, their parents, will never hear.  At night they will awkwardly climb into old beds that no longer feel as though they fit and drive away the next day with leftovers and full gas tanks, courtesy of Mom and Dad. It's the least we can do and our parting benediction for children who are growing up and away with a speed that leaves me absolutely breathless.

The other day our youngest called me... bemoaning Halloween as a college student in a house with no visible vestiges of the holiday. At least, the kind he grew up with. He was throwing together a last minute costume for a party, but he said it didn't feel like the old Halloweens of his childhood. His words connoted an ersatz thank you for the years of pumpkin carving, costume making and skeleton-themed paper napkins lovingly tucked into school lunch boxes for every day in October.  In that moment, we were two interlocking puzzle pieces: He with the multiple friends in costumes but no familiar (read: home-y) reminders of the holiday and me with the house full of tangible memories and themed artifacts...and no kids to enjoy it.  Two people standing on separate islands sharing the same sweet memory through two tin cans and a piece of string.

Childless people are going to read this and think,  "Move on, Nancy"!" They would be justified. And perhaps those who have actually lost a child are simply going to want to throw up after reading my self-indulgent drivel. I get that too.  It ought to be "Hakuna Matata" around here all day long, right?  Elton John singing The cirrrcle of life while we nod enthusiastically and then make the kind of weekend plans couples typically make when they only have to worry about themselves after 24 years of living life "on call". We're all okay and we have our health! It should be enough.

How ironic is it that we spend our childhood simply wishing for time to go forward and then spend the rest of adulthood wanting to go back? Maybe I'm not asking to go back and start all over again and upon reflection? I'm not.  But what I wouldn't give for one last brisk autumn night in order to escort a mummy, a spider and a tiny pirate down down a leafy neighborhood street on a quest for candy.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Our Fearless Leader

 This, in more of a Pilgrim's Progress sort of way, is what my 2nd grade teacher looked like. Even for a rule follower like myself, Mrs. Roach could be and was frequently terrifying.

A stern, pale, and skull-faced woman of late middle age who pulled her hair back in a no-nonsense bun, my teacher wore what were commonly referred to as "cat eye" glasses and her mouth was a horizontal slash of red, courtesy of the House of Avon. She wore dresses with slips underneath, silk hose and high heels with pointy toes. Every single day.  Mrs. Roach pulling her Pontiac into the teacher's parking lot in a pair of stretch pants would have have been no less shocking than discovering an aproned minotaur in a hairnet serving up tater tots in the cafeteria on Hamburger Day.

When it was time for math, you did not ask why and then pretend to lose your pencil. You had at least five other Eberhard Fabers (always sharpened) in the "side pocket" of your desk which you lined with a brown paper towel so that pencils and crayons didn't fall through the holes. When it was time for handwriting, you did not cleverly substitute the capital "S" in your last name with a treble clef  (even though they sort of looked the same) unless you wanted it circled in red pen with a note to erase and do it over. When it was time to read aloud, you did so in hopes of hearing a "Nicely done!" before she selected another victim student.  That was high praise enough. We didn't need or expect a 21 gun salute and an application to MENSA.

When accused of chewing gum in her class you did not roll your eyes and say, "I don't HAVE any gum" in an exasperated tone which--although-- technically true because you were chewing something, it wasn't gum. It was Captain Crunch. Because you didn't have breakfast that morning (As if that was somehow her problem or responsibility. But go ahead and suggest to her that it was her responsibility and then wait for the Apocalypse.) Better yet, have your parent do it. Same result.

You did not try to be the class clown by burping words to the Pledge of Allegiance or ask her if this was her "real hair" or if she dyed it.  When she asked for your homework you did not fix her with a smarmy grin and tell her you didn't do it because "I was busy".  The only notes you wrote in class had damn well better be from the assignment on "How to Write a Letter To a Friend" and not to your actual friend who had a different teacher altogether who wouldn't have cared if that same friend spent a brief moment of class time reading your synopsis of last night's episode of "The Monkees".

If you were told to carry a sealed envelope home to your parents, you were clueless about its contents and you did not ask. It could have been a letter about a PTA matter or a request to have you publicly flogged. It mattered not because it wasn't any of your damn business because it wasn't addressed to you and hiding it for two weeks inside your copy of Encyclopedia Brown wasn't going to make it go away.  Later, your parents weren't ever going to go all Liza Minnelli crazy when questioning Mrs. Roach like she was at her own trial because you didn't bring the note home. Why?? Because that was a parenting issue and your parents--God love them--were smart enough to know it.  However, your ass would be--as they say--grass even though the note was about being a homeroom mother, you paranoid maniac.

Had the internet existed back when you were a kid, Mrs Roach would have been listed on Wikipedia as the country's seventeenth line of defense. Just ahead of the Boy Scouts.

Mrs. Roach was a teacher, not a convenient doormat to be stepped on by lazy-ass parents who expected her to offer free tutoring for class days missed because of a surprise birthday trip to Carlsbad Caverns which necessitated lying about being sick for two days so that it would be excused. She wasn't about to be trifled with or disrespected during professional development seminars by being asked to remove her teacher hat for the day and pretend to be a student learning the same shit she was already teaching in real class. One didn't tell Mrs. Roach that she would be taking and grading work from any and all children who had sufficient time to turn in their assignments but didn't do so....for five weeks.

And if someone told her that she would be expected to tiptoe around a mentally ill student who hears voices that tell her to do bad things and if said student was demonstrating those bad things in class and began to otherwise act strangely like having a conversation with her own shoe, and that she--Mrs. Roach-- was required to halt the educational process for everyone else in the class, hit the panic button on the wall and then step ALONE(?) into the hall with said mentally ill student and wait until help came? Well...Mrs. Roach would have poured those people a big old glass of OH HELL NO and stood calmly while they drank it down with a side of KISS MY ASS cookies. Guaranteed Mrs. Roach did not have to aid her nightly sleep with  five melatonin and a martini chaser because even though she was required to dress like June Cleaver and she was paid like crap and the moral turpitude clause in her contract prohibited her from being seen buying or consuming alcohol, she was respected. By everyone. Or they did a really good job at pretending. Period.

It's not hard to see why my colleagues and I look wistfully into the rearview mirror and sigh before pouring ourselves another stiff drink. Even on a good day, I'm forced to behave less like Mrs. Roach and more like the friendless kid who converses with her sandwich. We live in an era where teachers are everyone's whipping boy and--like my friend Nance says, no one's boss. I live for the days when I can say "no" or "yes" and actually be granted permission to follow through on my own decisions. Sure, I'm allowed to wear pants, but only in the literal sense. Never in the figurative.

But I can hoist a glass and so I do. Here's to you, Mrs. Roach.

Thursday, October 17, 2013


1) I get bored easily and a fresh blog look can often bring me back to the keyboard. You're welcome.

2) I modeled a love for books with all of our children and--as a teacher of middle and high school English--I'm called upon to practice what I preach. Unfortunately, the demands of my job don't allow for reading anything pleasurable between the hours of  5:45 am until 6:00 pm, which are the hours when I'm most likely teaching or grading. After 6 I'm trying to eat, take in a yoga class or sleep. Today I took a "personal day" which entailed two doctor's appointments, paying bills, doing dishes, grocery shopping and attending a mid-day yoga class. Also? I read. Some. It was lovely. Because I did not go to work.

3) I love the show "Parenthood", but I don't think Kristina Braverman should run for mayor of Berkeley on the Education platform because I'm bored with that plot line, but in real life it's realistic. Want to know why? Because politicians don't know crap about schools and they only wind up making stuff worse. The only people who have any influence to move shit around are parents, which is unfortunate and the reason for that is because districts are deathly afraid of lawsuits. Want to turn on-level literacy classes into a hot stew of varying abilities/diagnoses/learning levels where only one teacher is expected to serve everyone? Ask a parent. So you say downtown hasn't addressed the broken HVAC issue at your school? Ask a parent (because you know damn well they don't care if the teachers are uncomfortable). Want to bring a visit to the modern art museum to a grinding halt because you're afraid that your baby might see a picture of a naked body? Ask a parent. I could go on...but I won't. Whining makes me tired. And I'm okay with somebody addressing the temperature controls in my classroom.

4) Growing up I watched "Room 222" on ABC and dreamed of teaching at Walt Whitman High. I never suspected that I would be teaching high school level English years later in a futuristic building where kids would never know know who Walt Whitman was were it not for their enthusiasm for Walter White aka Heisenberg.

5) I dreamed about Islamic Jihadists last night and how they were attacking random suburban neighborhoods with guns. In one dream I saw that they had killed Walter White. I really need to watch what I eat/drink before I go to bed.

6)  Turning the pages of an e-book is not the same thing as turning them in a real book. Maybe that makes me a dinosaur.

7) This year is so much better than last year as far as school goes. I have some awesome students and my teacher-peeps are wonderful. However, I've traded my wonderful former principal for one whom I don't trust and parents who "helicopter" constantly if they think their baby isn't being served as one might a reigning monarch of a European principality.

8) I am the oldest person in the English department.  In many ways it makes me smarter, but it also makes me feel self-conscious. Especially when I look in the mirror.

9) I  don't know how to end this post. Someone help me.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Work Email In Box:

Dear Teachers

It has come to our attention that some of you feel your 30 minute duty-free lunch is being compromised when parents show up for unscheduled conferences while you are eating.  Please know that while we support your right to a noon meal 100%, we hope you will still make every visitor to our building feel welcome by addressing their requests in an interested and efficient manner. If you feel such an encounter has unnecessarily intruded on your private moment with last night's reheated leftovers, keep a strict accounting of your missed minutes, enter them onto an Excel spread sheet of your own making,  submit it to our already overworked secretary and she will repay your lost time with a 50% OFF coupon for dry erase markers. Please do not remove any school-funded supplies from campus.  

Thanks for all you do!!


To ensure that every learning day is focused on teaching excellence from "bell to bell", we discourage any teacher-led activity which might distract from the objectives at hand. We must teach to the test ready our students for the end of the year and all that this entails. Please refrain from imparting information which isn't covered on the test is not expressly mentioned in the curriculum. We LOVE it when you are creative, however content which veers sharply from tested materials targeting the intended concepts does not contribute to an optimal learning environment. Every classroom minute counts!!

Additionally--we ask that, following the Pledge of Allegiance, the state pledge, school pledge and  moment of silence, you devote a consistent part of each and every morning to a student uniform check, chewing gum check, attendance check and tardy count. Please help the office clerk by collecting the brown Beginning of Year envelopes containing emergency cards, free lunch forms, media release, home language survey and PTA membership form. Use the attached spread sheet to record forms turned in and keep track of all forms not signed or turned in. Please do this every day.



  Students may not carry a backpack to class after the first week of school. If a student persists on bringing the backpack to class and you feel you MUST confront student, you must lawyer up first contact parent (phone/email/conference) for permission to enforce a district/school/classroom policy. We repeat: Parents must be totally cool with any rule you are required to uphold before you can go forward with it. After you have received approval, wait one week for angry parent to go over your head to call downtown and complain. Then, check the computer system for evidence of a 504, IEP or BIP which might provide the student with special permission to carry one of the following: blackjack  (sorry...this is currently not yet approved) backpack, emergency water, emergency Gatorade, low blood sugar snacks, emergency candy, cell phone, inhaler, epipen, hand-held/battery-controlled fan (for hot days!), small pillow (for sleepy days!), iPod (comforting music for those with anger issues), worry rock, pet rock, Rubik's Cube, ice pack. Please attempt to address these issues outside of class. It's all about the learning!!!!

Faculty and staff:

Students may not be allowed in hallways before 8:30 a.m!!  This is a safety issue and it is of the utmost importance that we work together to discourage loitering, isolated moments between adolescent students, potential vandalism or theft. Students must have an official pass from a teacher before being allowed to enter the school during non-instructional hours. Of course, some exceptions can be made. For your convenience we have provided a list of those students who may not be approached or questioned about their presence in the hallways during non-instructional hours:

*Students with a pass signed by a teacher
*Students who had a pass signed by a teacher and then lost it
*Band students
*Choir members
*Students being tutored.
*Students who say they are being tutored but you know damn well it's a lie.
*Students whose mothers are on the PTA board and get testy when you don't let their children retrieve their cheerleading "pom-pons" from their lockers.
*Spirit Team
*Coach's "helpers"
*Team managers
*Any female student claiming she is having her period. (Do not confront!!)
*Students retrieving instrument from locker
*Students placing instrument in locker by mistake and then coming back again to get it.
*Students with no pass but whose indignant parent is accompanying them.
**6th grade peer tutors
**7th grade free breakfast eaters
**8th grade Whiz Quiz kids
*White Board Monitors.
*Office Assistants
*New students
*Any student with a mysterious rash needing to see the nurse.
*Angry parents with no appointment and a small-caliber weapon.

All others must remain outside until bell rings!!



Note from Attendance Clerk:

Some teachers are still not pausing to take electronic roll every class period!! Dammit, people!!
The following teachers are screwing it up for the rest of us:

Coach Jones
Coach Shannon
Coach Tribble
Coach Mayhew
Coach Overton
Coach Longstreet-Preston
Coach Hayes
Mrs. Peckinpaugh


It has come to our attention that your respective unions have advised teachers to question the seemingly mountainous amount of clerical paperwork being required of them. While it is true that such work was previously the domain of office staff members at the campus level, budget cutbacks demand that these tasks fall on the apparently too-delicate shoulders of our teaching compatriots. My bad!

 In compliance with the Paperwork Reduction Act we are now obligated to work around any and all legal prohibitions by limiting your paper workload to only those tasks which are directly relevant to the teaching day (ie: student work, grade book, lesson planning tools/forms and professional training materials).

If you feel unnecessary paper duties have been thrust upon you, please record any and all incidents (including date, time, place, reason, person who asked you and a detailed account of the paperwork's educational value) on an Excel spreadsheet of your own making. Please make extra copies for your records as well as those for your campus as well as one for me. Please submit the entire packet to your principal in person. You'll be sorrrryyy! And then wait.


Yours for the children,
Superintendent Clay

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Why Aunt Bea Can't Make Pickles (And Other Mysteries of My Summer)

Some of you don't know this yet, but you make a lot promises to yourself once you anticipate the heady cocktail that is equal parts Empty Nest Syndrome and Public School Teacher's Summer Vacation. On paper, however, it looks like the last and very sad Bucket List of a person who aims only for the lowest hanging fruit, due to its complete lack of anything interesting or worth doing. Of course, it must also be said that this same list was compiled by a shell shocked adult who spent the last 10 months waiting for permission to use the bathroom. Because they were serving time in the pen busy teaching someone's littlest angel how to read or multiply. It bears consideration. Be gentle with me.

So this might explain how some of the following items--both crucial and trivial--landed on my Summer "To Do" list.

1) Start running again. Let's avoid a legalistic application of the word running since that conjures unnecessarily flattering visuals of Jackie Joyner Kersee which don't apply to me. What I'm doing involves walking the curving portions of the nearby university's track complex and then sprinting the "straights". Who are we kidding? It's less like sprinting and more like hurrying. Carefully. As if I am carrying a priceless crystal bowl filled with angrily swimming piranha. It's all about the baby steps.

2) Blogged more.

3) More yoga. I absolutely have begun practicing more than ever before. Somewhere between 5-6 classes per week. Flying Scissors, anyone?

4) Read more books. Before summer happened, I ritually blamed work for getting in the way of my lifelong book habit. Once I packed up my old classroom, I've found that I can point an accusing finger at Facebook, blogs (other people's...not mine) and my oldest friend--television-- for drastically impeding  my literary intake this summer. I think I read 13 books last summer and I only read 10 this time around. However, it's important to remember that blogs are writing and all television is also writing except you read it with your ears, so we're all even on that count.

5) Buy all new school clothes/shoes. I've found a couple of clothing websites that seem to comply with our district's new "work appropriate"jihad style prohibitions prescription for teachers. My personal version is a hybrid of casual and professional while also being comfortable. Not quite pajama comfortable so I appear to be settling in on the sofa with a tube of raw cookie dough waiting for a "Facts of Life" marathon, but definitely something that works for me mainly because I don't want to cry when I put it on. Now all I have to do is find footwear that does the same. Unfortunately, our district seems to be conflicted as to appropriate foot coverings for teachers during the hellishly hot months of August and September (also April, May and June). The arguments over, "Is it a sandal or is it a flip-flop?" have shamefully dominated more administrative meetings in our area than I care to count.  I'm going to let those jagweeds downtown worry about whether my shoes slap my heels when I walk across the room or whether they have a strap across the back or are mostly made out of rubber. I've too busy teaching my 8th graders about the importance of Atticus Finch as a male role model.

6) Changed the batteries in my bathroom scales. Something's afoul with those scales and I'm tired of having a bi-polar experience every time I step on them. One minute the numbers on the digital read out would suggest that I have a couple of anvils stuffed into my pants pockets. Five minutes later I have apparently lost the kind of weight that it would take three violent bouts of food poisoning and a water pill to pull off. It's maddening.

7)  Make homemade salsa. Since February, I have had Pinterest-infected hallucinations where I am making my own salsa and then getting so good at it that by Christmas, I have only to invest in a few dozen Ball jars and some festive ribbon to have my yearly neighbor/friend holiday gift conundrum solved. Unfortunately, this seemingly simple and enjoyable project has proved a bridge too far for yours truly. Not only have I not done this or even looked into what making it might entail, but I haven't even used the food processor this summer. It's too much like cooking and with the current heat wave afflicting our state, the mere thought makes my brain all hurt-y.

8) Pervasive Mystery A: After a comprehensive study of "The Andy Griffith Show" involving TVLand's Morning Lineup and my own boxed sets of Seasons 1-4, I have come no closer to understanding why Opie Taylor's Aunt Bea can fry a chicken, mash a potato, serve up buttery homemade biscuits and bake the hell out of a pie, but can't seem to make a decent pickle that doesn't taste like it was boiled in a pot of ant spray. It's a real puzzler.

9) Pervasive Mystery B: Why is it that every time I stumble across unwarranted and hostile diatribes written by Facebook trolls, they are almost always rendered in the most excruciatingly inarticulate examples of spelling, grammar and basic punctuation. "YOUR AN IDOIT AND I BLAM ALL THE WORLDS TORNADOSS ON OBAMA. IT HIS FALT THE FLOODS TO  AND U CAN CHEK IT ALL ON SNOPS COUSE IT ALL TRUE." 

I'd cry if I weren't already laughing so hard.  What did you do this summer?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Coal Miner's Prom Date

Nothing says "A Wedding on Walton's Mountain" like the dress I wore to someone else's prom. It was a long time ago and I probably should have apologized to my date for looking like an escapee from Warren Jeffs' Yearning For Zion Family Incarceration Facility and General Store, but shopping with my mother always did tend to urge me into regrettable impulse purchases. My dress was a prime example.

Somewhere deep in the many reorganized photo albums my mother has squirreled away in my childhood bedroom closet is a picture of my washed out self posed with my date who was really a nice guy and didn't deserve to have his senior prom immortalized with a girl who had all the pallor of someone who had recently donated blood. Add to the horror the fact that I had no one to counsel me about what a bad idea it was to choose a dress inspired by my lengthy and ill-advised "beige period" when my naturally pale skin had not yet accumulated enough pigment to distinguish me from a tall glass of Cream of Wheat. The dress was long and it covered up all my lady parts and that was good enough for my mom. I'm just fortunate that it didn't come with a matching bonnet.  Because my Southern Baptist mother might have insisted on it. Bless her heart.

This is not my dress, but it is made by the same virginity preserving label and it has many of the same features.

I can't unsee this! Ever!! Damn you, Gunnesax!!

You know how you can get all nostalgic about the past and start daydreaming about certain articles of clothing that you wish you could still wear although they are no longer something you could shoehorn your ass into fashionable? Me too. There's the silvery gray corduroy jumper that I wore in middle school. The mulberry colored jersey top I wore with the matching hip huggers from the 5-7-9 Shop. The oatmeal sweater with the roomy pockets and the black and putty ESPRIT blouse that I wore when I first started teaching. I'm sorry I threw that last item. I could probably still make it work.

It goes without saying that I do not miss that prom dress. At all. Not the way it looked all limp and uninteresting on the hanger or how ghastly and I looked when I was wearing it. Oh sure, it might come in handy if I moved in next door to Loretta Lynn and she needed something to see her through until laundry day. Maybe if I decided to audition for the Grand Old Opry or a starring role in the broadway production of Willa Cather's "O Pioneers!" But not until then.

I really thought that my own prom the following year would have provided the chance to make fashion restitution, but it didn't. I had a new boyfriend by then who was away at college and could not make it back for my big event. He helpfully granted permission for me to ask his friend, Alan to escort me. Alan was a short, gopher-toothed young man of good intentions who wore his bell bottomed jeans "flood style" with hideous man-sandals and wool-ish tunics and who sprinkled his conversation with cringeworthy terms like supposably and pacifically (As in: I never got to wear a decent prom dress that looked as though it was made for me, pacifically).

The lady or the tiger? The memories of my first prom marred by a terrible dress OR my own special night made worse by a date with Samwise Gamgee?? I chose the former. And that, as Robert Frost so wisely said, has made all the difference.

What article of old clothing do you miss??

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Swing and A Miss: Failed Blogposts I Never Actually Wrote Concerning Embarrassing Stuff I'd Rather Forget

One would think that with the wealth of free time I currently have on my hands ---summer vacation from teaching, kids no longer living at home, a clearer mind thanks to a brief respite from stress-induced impulse drinking...and...a laptop at the ready---I'd have written a long novel's worth of carefully crafted posts all published with the appropriate title Magna Carta Holy Grail but Kanye West totally scooped me on that front. However, it must be said that Kanye's reasons for using such a lofty title probably have more to do with the enormity of his ego and mine is just a symbolic accounting for the many, m-a-n-y times a day I thought about writing, said I was going to, and then... did not.

Oh...the promises I made to myself all those times I avoided potential parent contacts by hiding under my desk I was too busy with work related nonsense and now I've let myself down again! I don't think I'm alone when I say that the creative juices really do flow best when you're drunk you're too busy to do anything worthwhile with the ideas they bring forth. And I had some ideas, though upon later examination they seemed mostly to follow an unsettling theme illustrating my majestic lack of common sense at various junctures of my life. Such as:

*The semester I was a "walk on" on the college track team because I was somewhat faster than many of my non-runner friends and because my experience with actual athletes we say...non existent? I thought that I, with my whippet-thin body and "Elmo arms" that had lifted nothing heavier than a dictionary,  would have no problem in being equal to everyone who had been running competitively since the invention of movies with sound. The willingness to have faith in oneself is important, but it is clear that it must also be grounded in some kind of reality. Obviously, I had not learned this yet. Oh, the hubris of youth!

Which is why during the inter-squad meet I didn't know enough to wear shorts under my thin white sweats, which were to be removed before we got into the starting blocks. I had to run in the sweatpants, which looked awkward not only because I looked like a white balloon in motion, but also because my bright pink underwear could be seen through the pants--not by only by those running nearby, but also from any low flying aircraft overhead. Also? I was the last one on my squad to cross the finish line.

*There was the time that I--in a fit of young teenage angst--possibly over dramatized the familial dysfunction that was going on inside my childhood home and wrote a lengthy and detailed letter to the advice columnist at Seventeen Magazine. Cut to a few months later when I get an envelope addressed to me from the magazine and a letter inside advising me and the fellow maniacs in my family to seek professional help posthaste. This was problematic for several reasons: 1) My mother did not allow me to read the magazine because--choosing to believe as she did a literal interpretation of its audience--decided I had to actually BE seventeen in order to be a legal member of its target demographic. Therefore, she could never know that I had written them in the first place, which was difficult since I was not of an age where I got personally addressed mail at my home unless it was my birthday.  2) I couldn't remember exactly what I had said (Had I exaggerated or not??) in the letter that had touched off the clear concern this stranger had for me, and 3) I was confused and afraid that--just perhaps--my family was crazy and now someone outside our family unit knew and would tell everyone.

It is my personal belief that the origins of my perforated gastric ulcer from three years ago can be  traced to the moment immediately after I received that letter.

*There was also the time when, in a fit of good will for my fellow human, I was so moved by a lonely young man's Dear Abby letter that I decided to write him at the address he provided. Because he was lonely and sad. And (You've got mail!!) he wrote back!!!! From his cell at the state penitentiary!! Did I know he was in prison when I wrote to him?? Incredibly, the answer to this question is yes.  Because I had been so chatty about myself in my letters about what I did and where I lived, my new jailbird pen pal began talking about what I might do to help him reacclimate whenever he got out. You know...maybe my dad could get him a job or something!?  This unforseen turn of events would have necessitated having to tell my very strict father (Whom we sometimes referred to as Captain Von Trapp.) that I had helpfully provided an incarcerated man with information about our family. That I had thought writing to a prisoner AT ALL was a good idea would have seemed to them beyond the scope of understanding. Let alone that this idea, apart from all other worthwhile things in my life that I should have followed through on, was the one that took root inside my hormonal mind.

Tragically, there are plenty more stories like this and I suppose they could serve as an embarrassing reminder of how stupid I was and for how long I remained that way. Or I could decide to focus on the fact that I did eventually turn into a relatively normal person with a miraculously amazing family and a decent work ethic and not a walking cautionary tale. People grow up and they get smarter in the process. Most of them, anyway. But they, like me, have a secret list of horrific missteps to remind them of when this wasn't always the case. Even today, and just to be safe, I never wear white pants...with anything.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

And then...

Mercifully, the school year ended right before I voluntarily fed myself head first into an industrial grade wood chipper. Obviously I refrained from doing this. Instead I met a bunch of my teacher friends for a Hallelujah!!! happy hour where some of us didn't leave until 11 p.m. and I may or may not have roofied myself with a combination of margaritas and extreme happiness bordering on delirium.

It was a l-o-n-g year, people, and I was one lunch duty away from Nutcase Ahoy! The Cloverfield Monster had nothing on the homeroom class assigned to me this year. The little blessings! *cough*

The day before the 5th grade promotion a student whose mother saw fit to name him after a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle accused another boy of "tea bagging" him, which turned out to be nothing more threatening than one fully clothed kid gleefully jumping over the seated body of another fully clothed kid who was trying to watch a movie. How happy I will be not to feel the need to take a Silkwood shower after work every day, which probably happens a lot when you suspect you're fighting a losing battle teaching subject-verb agreement to the next generation of Menendez brothers.

So... it's on to middle school in a completely different part of town. More Ellen Degeneres and less Jerry Springer.  I get to dust off my adolescent psychology notes and try to reach my inner teen. That's the awesome one I wanted to be who could blow everyone's minds with her new crocheted vest,  Love's Baby Soft-scented skin and mad spelling skillz,  but whose "cool" was hamstrung mightily by the unforgiving trifecta of glasses, braces and white knee socks. Plastic framed glasses because the parents of yours truly believed only hippies wore wire framed glasses and wearing panty hose gave one the mistaken impression one was a grown up and--believe me young lady, being grown was apparently something that only happened when your parents decided that it happened. Until that time I was doomed to live out middle school as an AM girl in an FM world. A used plastic poncho in a roomful of London Fog raincoats. The lone can of Cheez Whiz next to the plate of gruyere. A lamer episode of McMillan & Wife when the world is all about Sherlock Holmes (Both Rathbone and Downey Jr. varieties) You get the idea.

So yeah....*whispers* it's summer. I've fantasized about this so many times I'm afraid of talking about it too loudly for fear that it's really just a dream.  A dream where I awaken to find myself explaining for the eleventy hundredth time why wearing red pimp shoes is not part of the dress code and then attempting to sweat a confession out of a kid who is a destined to be a first round draft pick for Leavenworth and who will steal anything that isn't locked up claiming that he "found" it.

 I've been rededicating myself to running sprints and practicing yoga because Spanx can correct only so much when you are pregnant with a 9-month old food baby which I can only blame on my stress diet of candy corn and alcohol.  I am grateful for the available time to give birth get fit.  I've also dived head first into the Jenga tower of books on my bedside table, the best part of which is that no characters in any of these volumes tries to axe anyone else a question and none of them are on the Newberry list.

In unrelated news I'm also cleaning out my bedroom closet in anticipation of the new duds I'll be able to buy with the 4% raise teachers in my district are getting after three years of bupkis and a crapton of excuses as to why insurance and cost of living continue to rise but our paychecks do not. I did the math and if I start buying my bras and underwear at the Dollar Store I'll j-u-s-t be able to spring for some new blouses from the 4th of July discount rack at CrackerBarrel. Or something equally classy.

Try to contain your jealousy.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Competitive Talker

My last gig as a 5th grade teacher at the end of year promotion is this coming Friday and since my feet will be on display I scheduled a pedicure today and reveled in the fact that it would be relatively quiet there, thanks to the post-finals/pre-summer lull. The salon--much like the nearby university-- was completely empty, save for one woman who was deep into her book and getting a final coat of red on her toes.

Unfortunately, it wasn't until I had already secured the chair next to her that I realized the woman was not a stranger. It was Sheila Walton. Seemingly harmless, albeit every-so-slightly-shrill, elementary school teacher by day or evening with a penchant for animal print jackets and chunky jewelry. (An affectation that makes it almost impossible for me not to think of Audra Lindley in her seminal role as Mrs. Roper) Once you were forced into a conversation with Sheila you would shortly realize with fresh horror that she was (and remains) a competitive talker.

You know the type. Competitive talkers can never be wrong about anything, but this is only the tip of the conversational iceberg you're up against. Nothing in life will ever happen to you that is as wonderful or as death-defyingly tragic as whatever has happened to her. At first, conversation with a CT seems normal, but it quickly devolves into a frustrating game of one upmanship where the only means of escape is to look for the nearest window and then jump through it. Or to pray for the sweet and unexpected mercy that only the Seven Horsemen of the Apocalypse can provide. And so it has always been with Sheila.

She started in by asking me if it had been a difficult school year and I said that it had been especially so. This was familiar and dangerous territory as we had talked about our jobs during a wedding reception a couple of years ago where I told her about some of the criminal activity of my young students and where she assured me that the children at her charter school were equally--if not more-- delinquent than those at my public school. Today I regaled her with the Reader's Digest version of a student being pulled out of my class on Tuesday (never to return) because he chose to honor our men and women in uniform over the Memorial Day weekend with nefarious actions resulting in a charge of Felony Breaking and Entering. Also--our school as twice been the target of "friendly fire" of the arson variety, the second time during which current and former students' images were captured on the school's security camera. Sheila responded that kids at her building set their fires in the 1st grade. Because they are so advanced at being bad, I'm guessing.

And it all came rushing back like a bad acid flashback because Sheila Walton is the Michael Phelps of Competitive Talking, minus the all those medals. I could sooner teach my cat to dial 911 than convince Sheila  my day had ever been worse-- or better-- than hers. You have a migraine? Sheila just diagnosed herself (Thanks to the assistance of WebMD) with a brain tumor.

If I know someone with six toes on each foot, she knows someone who has an entire hand growing off of their foot and it has six toes growing off of it.  If I tell her my kid has earned a college scholarship, she would be quick to let me know that her precious dumpling had not only received a free ride to the college of his choice---but had also been crowned the newest ruler of a small principality. Know someone who has been attacked by a shark? Sheila knows a woman who was skin diving while having her period, which attracted the unwanted attentions of an amorous Hammerhead who then forced her to have interspecies sex....and then promptly ate her. You tell her a story about accidentally burning yourself while scrambling some eggs and you will be held captive while she tells you about the time she was so distraught over a bad color job at the salon that she set her own hair aflame with a BIC lighter and half a can of sterno she had left over from an unsuccessfully catered birthday party.

It's exhausting, friends. And because the Apocalypse didn't happen while my feet were soaking and we were unhelpfully located on the first floor of a building, there was nothing for me to do today but just stop talking. Just. Stop. Talking. Feigning a coma would have probably aroused her suspicion, so I focused on the pedicurist's graphic scraping of my leathery feet and begin chatting with her even though her strong Vietnamese accent made it practically impossible to understand what she was saying to me, but I did not mind in the least. NOT IN THE LEAST! The alternative was just too much to endure.Naturally, Sheila Walton is not her real name, but if I did use her real name and the real Sheila ever read this, she would promptly corner me at the store and tell me about the trials of her own personal Competitive Talker who makes mine look like such an amateur! And then one of us would be going home in a body bag.

P.S.- This is the part where you pull a Sheila and tell me about an encounter with a Competitive Talker near you. Ready, Set....Go.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Movin' On Up...(and away from the east side)

I'm not going to lie. Things have been stressful lately. Monday through Friday I masquerade as a weary and battered shuttlecock in a surreal game of academic badminton played between the Reich Chancellery (school district) and many clueless and some crackhead parents who vie for control of everything I --not to mention my esteemed colleagues-- say and do.

Because they fear a lawsuit, downtown authorities want us to handle everything from extreme attendance issues (One young girl has been absent for two months and has not been enrolled anywhere else) to students with 31 zeros (also a true story) at the campus level while ghetto parents throw a clot every time you correct them or their children for anything. Each party desires miraculous academic results without suffering any personal loss of energy on their own part all the while bearing no responsibility for the failure that is almost certainly due to the refusal of the former entity (district) to recognize the essential role of the latter (parents) as the creators and would-be facilitators of what we in education refer to as the formative years. 

Truthfully, it's like being handed 77 5th graders who have been raised on a steady diet of cigarettes, Flaming Hot Cheetos and Mountain Dew and then being critically evaluated on whether or most of them can--after a scant eight months-- qualify for the Olympic trials.

 I'm done.

Seacrest out, my friends. Marva Collins has left the building. I'm waving the white flag of surrender and throwing in the proverbial towel. I'm cashing in my chips.  I'm taking my vintage vinyl copy of Lulu singing "To Sir, With Love" and breaking it in half over my knee. I'm not saying it can't be done. I'm just saying that it can't be done by me. Here. Now.

 Defecting along with me are two upper grade colleagues. Another two have requested transfers but have thus far been unable to find positions elsewhere. The AP is resigning from education altogether.'s not just me, just in case you were wondering.

Next year I'll be teaching 8th grade English Literature far away from the Quick Cash kiosks and Section 8 housing that surround my present educational establishment. My new job is closer to home and it's with an age group that--when the bell rings--is capable of walking to lunch, rather than requiring me to slice off part of my own meager mealtime to ferry them there and back to the classroom. I've taught 8th grade before and I've raised 8th graders. Of course, you could say that I've raised 5th graders too and you'd be right, but the ones who grew up in my house knew their own address and phone number and that Clown College and Hair College should never be mistaken for higher education. It had to be said.

To complicate matters, I've spent almost a month of post-work afternoons or evenings seeing my father in the hospital. ER first trip, post-op, ER second trip, post-op, cardiac telemetry, two weeks of a propofol-induced coma in the ICU, and back to cardiac telemetry before....finally...a two week stint in a physical rehab hospital where he is learning to walk again. All the while waiting for good news from a better school and better chances for good news about my dad. News that would suggest that we can resume planning his 80th birthday party again.

My head aches from the semi-permenent grimace I wear and my voice is strident and pedantic. I resemble Nancy Grace minus the bad hair and handcuff necklace she word during the Jodi Arias trial. There has been a notable increase in my wine consumption of late and on more than one occasion I've been tempted to check myself into a remote mountain top ashram under the name "Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman" and let robed monks bring me tea and invoke the Grand Silence.

Instead, I'm going to take a multi-vitamin, drink a big tumbler of ice water, do a handstand, smile at the calendar which shows the remaining eight days of school and rejoice in a second chance to experience joy in my chosen profession.

Happy Memorial Day, y'all.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Free To Be--You and Me. Well...Maybe Just You.

I'm not going to lie. I know exactly how much time has passed since I was here last and believe it or not I don't feel like a total scrub for my neglectful blogginess. Not like I used to when I felt as though I'd let people down because I wasn't writing. Nope. I seemed to have scissored my way through that particular veil of tears and now I'm feeling pretty good. Not exactly Tony Robbins good. More like Liza Minnelli after a couple of dirty martinis and a muscle relaxer. Just like mom. (Hers--not mine, naturally) I'll give you the Reader's Digest version of what I've been up to of late and in no particular order. You can decide if it was worthwhile to jot down:

1) Got myself on the transfer list for my school district.  Sent in my surprisingly impressive resume to the high school of my dreams. Went in for an interview with the principal and then got a call-back for a second interview. I must have done pretty well because one of the department heads had a particular slot in mind for me (Sophomore English) and then just I was confident enough to celebrate with some diabetes-flavored cupcakes and a box of Albertson's finest chardonnay, the would-be retiree whose place I would be taking changed her mind about leaving. I'm not exactly dead man walking just yet. There are still some possibilities in that department. I'm somewhat hopeful.

2) Went to see an acupuncturist about my metabolism which--without telling me--retired and went to live in Florida. The experience itself was a total kick in the pants. Part counseling session, part medical advice and part out-of-body experience. I even cried a little highly recommend it.

3) Spent part of my Spring Break in New York with my husband. Walked the Brooklyn Bridge. Saw some awesome art at the Frick. Spent part of a rainy afternoon at the Strand Bookstore. Sat and read in luxurious silence in the same New York Public Library reading room that Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard were in when they filmed "Breakfast at Tiffany's". Stayed and drank at the Algonquin. Had a liverwurst and onion sandwich and (full disclosure) four beers at McSorley's in the East Village and then accidentally walked into the men's bathroom. Fell back in love with my husband. Not in the bathroom, though.

4) Administered two four-hour major standardized tests on consecutive days last week where my job was to 'actively monitor' for test irregularities. Roughly translated, active monitoring means walking slowly for four hours around a room that has been stripped of any posters or anchor charts or words of any kind. The teacher is completely alone inside his/her head. Walk quickly enough not to freak anyone out but not so slowly that I fall over. In other words...I couldn't sit down. Watched to make sure a student was progressing in his/her answering process, but not actually SEE or mentally register what they are writing down. Notice shit...but not actually recognize what it is. Because that would mean I might have some idea what was on the test. All I can say is that, if presented with the chance, I would rather be kidnapped by Somali pirates than locked in another airless room full of testing 5th graders. Panic and failure stink when mixed. You'll just have to trust me on this.

5) Participated in one too many parent/teacher conferences where I feared one of us was going to leave the room in a body bag. I used to think a burnout was nothing more complicated than the glue-sniffing (but harmless) homeless alcoholic who occasionally enjoys directing traffic down by the zoo. I mean...I might need a judge's ruling on this, but I'm pretty sure I now see a burnout every time I look in the mirror. It's not teaching that weighs me down. It's teaching in the 'hood, which is less about education and more about filling in the cracks for the gaps left by children who had children and then dropped them off at the school's curb at 8:15, which is sad and frustrating because school starts at 8:00.

6) Had a tarot card reading today for the first time in my life. Something tells me that drawing both the devil card and the hangman card is not a good thing. I mean, you should have seen the terrified expression on the medium's face. I've always been a "glass half empty" kind of girl, but the guy looking at my cards made the probability of personal happiness for me seem as likely as obtaining Keyser Soze's cell phone number.

7) Discovered the joyful hilarity of The Honest Toddler blog. Seriously. Do yourself a favor and go there. Now.

8) Toyed with the idea of shutting down this blog. Still considering it. It's not about getting anyone to persuade me against the idea. It's just me. Nothing's definite yet.

9) Went to hear writer Anne Lamott speak. Moved beyond words. So much so that I was inspired to put down a few of my own. Life, despite my whining, is good.

What's new with you?