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Month: October 2015

Victory

Happy Halloween!

Zoe’s volleyball team had their last match of the season this morning, against one of their fiercest competitors. We played them last night, too, and didn’t bring our A game. Or our B game, for that matter. We did okay, but not great. We ended up losing the match by eight points (CYC matches are decided on points, not sets). Today, though, the girls were awake. They did great, and bested their opponent by…wait for it…eight points.

M is their coach, and I can’t tell you what a great coach he is. I mean, he’s phenomenal. And I’m not the only one saying that (nor am I saying it just because he’s my husband and because he’s cute, although those things help, too). I’ve had many parents on the team tell me how much they appreciate him, which is gratifying to hear. He dumps everything he’s got into that team, working with them at practice to better their skills and at games to keep them in the game and upbeat. His job is about 10% coaching and 90% psychologist, and he’s awesome. For him, it’s all about the girls. A winning season means every hand goes up when he asks at the end, “Who wants to come back and play next year?”

Still, today was pretty special. He had been tracking the other teams all year, and we were consistently at the top of the rankings. He told me last night that as long as we reached X points in the match today, we would clinch first place in our division. (Not that it matters.) We worked out a signal for him to let me know across the court that we hit it, and because I am a huge West Wing nerd I made him use the signal from one of my favorite episodes, “What Kind of Day Has It Been,” where the president and staffers are concerned about the space shuttle returning to earth and a downed US pilot in Iraq. They create a signal to let the president know, while he’s in the middle of a town hall meeting, that everything is okay.

When I knew we were getting close, I watched him closely between every point. I wasn’t in the greatest spot; the up ref and pole were right between us, but he ducked around and caught my eye and threw the signal. And, like the big dork I am, I started cheering. Since I was the only person who knew what I was cheering about, I was alone, and cheering for no apparent reason. This is not surprising to anyone who knows me. I filled in the other parents and then waited for the end of the match so I could photograph the girls’ reaction when M told them. I think I have some good shots, but no time to edit them today. We hit two grocery stores, enjoyed lunch out, Zoe rode a pony and looked at a camel, we designed, cleaned and carved a jack-o-lantern, I cleaned the cat box (that being, obviously, not the most fun part of the day), and I started writing this, mainly to fill the last day of a platform challenge (I did every single day, which is my own personal victory) but also because I had a good story to tell. The story being: M rocks as a coach, Zoe’s team is awesome, and I am a huge dork. None of this is news. Time for a shower and a fun night of trick-or-treating with friends.

Tomorrow NaNoWriMo kicks off. And then I write like a mofo.

Honor

There was a plenary meeting at work today. Thursday mornings are reserved for meetings, be they plenary, departmental, or otherwise. Sometimes there are no meetings, but usually there are. I try to go to the plenary meetings, unless they are something specific to teaching that I know will not pertain in any way to me or what I do for a living. Things like how to enter grades into the new online system. Today’s plenary meeting was billed as a presentation by the student-run Honor Court. These are the guys who try to make sure that the students, by and large, live up to the Honor Code they all signed when they entered the school in the 7th grade.

I was intrigued.

I got in a few minutes late, thanks to monster traffic (you wouldn’t think there’d be a lot, but when your kid runs late and then the drop-off line crawls and then you hit every light red, and some of them twice because the cars are so backed up…) and slipped into the back of the theatre. I didn’t miss anything, really, just the first part of the faculty moderator’s introduction.

The leader of the Honor Court stood up, and spoke so eloquently that I was almost moved to tears. He talked about the importance of honor and integrity in both the student body and among the faculty, and how the students rely on the faculty to both model honor and help impressionable young men learn to live honorably. He got a chuckle when he enthusiastically talked about the need for an “Honor Spirit Club,” but he also got a lot of heads nodding.

The other boys on the Honor Court presented, too, and then led a vibrant discussion with their teachers about honor and integrity as it relates to the school environment, specifically: when does collaboration cross over into cheating, how can teachers help kids, what kids can do to help each other, do kids feel safe ratting out their friends and is it reasonable to expect them to, how do we recognize honor and if we do, would it be taken seriously, how behaving honorably can be addictive just like cheating can become addictive, and more. I sat there in awe. These students and their teachers blew me away, and give me great hope for the future.

And then later I took a picture of a boy eating a hamburger while dressed as a hot dog in the dining hall.

HotDogHamburger
This child isn’t mine, so I have craftily concealed his identity. I’m crafty like that.

Blimps, parking spots, Scrabble, Snoopy, and [censored]

Things that made me laugh today:

  • A giant NORAD blimp pulled loose from its moorings and drifted from Maryland into Pennsylvania. Two F-16 fighters were scrambled to monitor the football field-sized dirigible. It drifted across the landscape, and apparently its tether wreaked havoc by pulling down power lines. I can’t stop giggling, because it sounds like Wile E. Coyote had his paws all over this. I wonder if the blimp says ACME on the side.
  • An 8th grader at the school I work questioned his Latin teacher, who is guiding the boys through a translation about Venus, the goddess of love. “Um, so in Latin, the V is pronounced like a W. Does that mean we’re studying Wenus?” Another boy then pointed out that the skin on your elbow is called your wenis. This prompted countless jokes in the faculty offices this afternoon.
  • One of our teachers, a chronic parking offender, received a nastygram from someone after she parked in a reserved staff spot. She showed up in my office just to let me know that the only reason she parked there was because I told her that those spots, while marked STAFF, weren’t reserved. Since I don’t remember this conversation, nor my appointment as Parking Lot Maven, I was confused. Another administrator happened to be walking by and called her on it. “Excuse me? You are a repeat parking offender. You’ve parked on the grass, you’ve parked in the front circle, you’ve parked in spots reserved for staff…” She tried to claim that the staff spots were fine. “They’re for STAFF. You are FACULTY.” I just sat there and laughed.
  • There is a town in Missouri called…wait for it…Uranus. Because of course there is. If you visit the website, you’ll see links and headlines like Great Things Are Happening in Uranus, and Two Monster Balls in Uranus! Again, it just makes me giggle. Because I have the same sense of humor as an adolescent boy.
  • A big, wall-hung Scrabble board. I also laughed heartily at the price.
  • A commercial on TV that lets me hear Snoopy laugh, which is one of my most favorite sounds in the world. I love Snoopy.

Any day when I get to laugh this much is a good day.

Oh, and I made this picture:

raindrops

Monk + Internet = Awesome

CracklingFireEvery week, I have a status meeting with my monk. For each trimester, and then the summer, we set a day and time, and he shows up promptly at my office door, sometimes a few minutes early. His teaching schedule changes throughout the year, so we have to adjust. I do not mind in the slightest. I would meet with him whenever he likes, because our status meetings are typically a lot of fun.

He comes in, makes sure the door is unlocked (it’s a safety issue, and Catholic priests can’t be too careful these days), closes it, and then plops down on the red couch near my desk. I can tell by the way he plops if he’s harried, sad, energized, or feeling goofy. If he’s one of the first two, I try to convert him to one of the second two by the time he leaves approximately 15 minutes later. Most of the time I can’t. Sometimes I am successful. Depends on what’s troubling him that particular day. Thankfully, he’s not often harried or sad. Nearly always, though, we end up laughing together and I learn something new.

Today, per usual, we started out all business-like and professional before devolving into goofiness. He wanted to know why I didn’t have the overhead fluorescent lights on. I explained that it was dark and dreary outside, and that the lights were just too bright today. He pointed out that my weak little desk lamp was throwing very little light, and I agreed, and we discussed getting a floor lamp and then where said floor lamp would be plugged in. My office is pretty decently sized, but the outlets are terribly spaced. There are two right near my desk, which sounds appropriate except that one is nearly obscured by the file cabinet (which means it’s totally obscured when a drawer is opened, so the things that get plugged in there are things that can be easily unplugged and re-plugged, so not, say, a desktop computer) and the other is two feet away, so most everything around the office must be routed to that one crammed two-foot location. I have gotten creative with power strips. There is one other outlet, on the far side from my desk, between the window and the meeting table. Also not convenient for cords. Or floor lamps.

Then he decided I needed a portable fireplace, the electric kind that flicker and glow and make popping and crackling sounds, and that don’t need a vent. We then proceeded to place the imaginary portable fireplace in the office, once again constrained by the outlet locations. I expressed a desire for an actual wood-burning fireplace, so that location was discussed.

We spend more time on crap like this than actual work. Because we’re just that efficient with the work stuff.

As I’m sitting there laughing at his thoughts on the viability of venting a wood-burning fireplace out my office window, he stopped suddenly.

“Wait. Go on the Internet.”

I knew immediately what he was thinking and tried to blow him off. He was having none of it.

“Go! Get on the Internet! Google ‘fireplace video.’”

Because he’s my boss, I am compelled to do these things. Once, he had me google “his nibs.” Don’t ask. Google it yourself.

I found a series of links for fireplace videos, and he pointed to the first one.

“There. Click that. Now make it full screen.”

And suddenly, my 21” monitor became a crackling fireplace, right there in my office. I looked at him, laughing, and saw that he was quite pleased with himself for fixing the whole fireplace issue that easily. I tried to explain that although the video is lovely (it is, truly), I actually rely on that monitor to get work done. He waved his hand, pointing to the small screen on the laptop sitting next to it.

“Use that one.”

Then I tried to explain that I was pretty sure that the IT director might have an issue with using the external monitor I requested for streaming fireplace videos, which only caused him to punch the IT director’s extension on my desk phone and order him to my office.

I knew exactly what that poor director was thinking. When the headmaster summons you like that, it’s usually not good. He showed up about eight seconds later, clutching his notebook and a pen, with a look of pain on his face that telegraphed, “Oh God, what now?”

My monk look pleased. With sparkling eyes and a sly grin, he waved the director around to our side of the desk.

“Look!”

Now there were three of us laughing, which was perfect timing for my marketing specialist to drop by. It was quickly becoming crowded around my little 21” fireplace.

The monk left and we continued chatting, and then he came bustling back in, thrusting a blanket at me.

“Here, you need this!”

Before I knew it, I was tucked snugly into my office chair with a maroon blanket emblazoned with University of Chicago, and a pillow from the couch crammed behind my head. He looked pleased again. I asked him if he was intentionally torpedoing my productivity, threw the blanket back to him, and waved him out of my office.

I’m willing to bet most professionals’ status meetings went nothing like this today.

For what it’s worth, that fireplace video is pretty awesome. I ended up leaving it on, running in the background, for nearly the entire day. I think I felt warmer for having it on (psychosomatic, yeah yeah), and the crackling and popping noises were soothing. At one point you can hear a train whistle in the distance. I highly recommend.

I also recommend…this site that runs coffee house noises in the background while you work.

Or…this site that offers Kmart Muzak from the 80s and 90s.

I love the Internet. And monks.

Habits and hobbies

Zoe tests off the charts for writing and spelling (and high on everything else), and I love that she loves to learn new words. I also love when she tries and nearly gets it, but just misses.

“She gave hers and I added mine and we combineded them.”

I picked her up from school Friday instead of having her go to after care, and brought her home for a little nap before the evening volleyball game. She had been up late the night before finishing her Grandparents Day cards (the girl has to do three sets!) and we worried she’d crash after a full day of school plus playing in after care. I took the opportunity to snuggle with my girl, which doesn’t happen nearly as often as I like these days. She moved her feet and I heard a knuckle pop.

“Zoe, was that you?”
“Yes. I pushed my one big toe against my other big toe. Is that okay?”
“Yeah, it’s fine. It’s like popping the knuckles on your hand. I used to do it all the time before I lost flexibility in my toes from the bunion surgeries. Feels good, doesn’t it?”
“It does! It’s my new hobby. I’ve been doing it a lot lately.”
“Do you mean ‘habit?’ It’s your new habit?”
“Yeah. Habit. That’s it.”

I’m sure that some people can make a hobby of cracking their joints, but in our case, it’s probably best that it’s just a habit.

The after effects of a virtual visit

One of the writers I started following on Twitter a few months ago told us followers to check out our childhood homes on Zillow. I couldn’t remember the street number for my house, because it’s been so long since I even thought of the place we moved from the summer before my 7th grade. I had to use Google Earth to get to the road, and then click-navigate along before finding my house. I didn’t recognize most of the surrounding properties, partly because they’ve all changed so much and partly because I didn’t pay attention to houses that didn’t house my friends, but I finally saw my best friend’s house that was across the street and three or four up from ours. Ricky’s house sat on top of the hill, where the road up t-boned into our street. I still remember the steep gravel drive, and how it would develop deep ruts when it rained, and how it felt like we were going off-roading in my mother’s little Chevy Cavalier when all we were doing was climbing that drive to go home.

Westbourne

I clicked around and eventually got to my house. It looks so much smaller than I remember, and it has a faded red door now. A lot more landscaping in the front. My clubhouse is missing from the back yard, but I knew that was taken out years ago. Daddy’s deck still stands, though, spanning the length of the back of the house. The more I looked at the Google Earth image of my former home, the smaller and smaller it seemed. I ran through the layout in my mind…split level with two bedrooms up and one down. Full bath up, half bath down. Kitchen that opened to the eating area, but walled off from the family room, where there was a fireplace. I remembered Christmases there, and Easters. And that I had to take showers upstairs because my bathroom downstairs was a half bath, and the hilarity that ensued when my parents tried to bathe the cat in that shower. I remembered my baby sister scooting around in her walker, and how she’d inevitably scoot herself under the kitchen table and fall asleep. I remembered the 80s kitchen table chairs, padded monstrosities in brown, on casters. The mar on the kitchen table from Daddy’s cigarette, smoothed over and colored with a marker to make it less noticeable (unsuccessfully). The wallpaper in the kitchen, full of harvest colors and, if memory serves, silver accents. My mother standing at the stove cooking dinner, balancing on her left foot with the right resting on top of the left. Sometimes I find myself standing the same way when I cook.

I remember one perfect night. It was cold, and we were all at home, warm and comfortable. I had Girl Scouts after school that day, which automatically made it special. Daddy had built a fire in the fireplace, and I could hear the crackle as I sat at the kitchen table doing my homework. Mom cooked something that smelled incredible, because the woman could bring it in the kitchen, and she cooked old-school where dinner was amazing while making the top-ten list of cardiologists’ banned meals. Daddy was at the table with me, reading the paper and working on a crossword puzzle and helping me with my homework. Beanie was in her high chair, waiting for dinner. And I thought, “This is it. This is perfect. My family, right here, right now. We are warm and dry, we are together and happy, and we are about to be fed. No one is fighting.” It was an incredible feeling of warm contentment, which was sometimes rare in my childhood. I knew, at 10, that this was the way it should be, all the time, every night.

All this played through my head as I looked at the house on Westbourne. The good memories, and the bad. The comfort and the fear. The consistency and the unknown. All right there at my desk. I didn’t realize the power behind it, or else I wouldn’t have looked it up online over my lunch break. Instead, I sat there, gobsmacked and teary-eyed at work in the middle of the day.

In attempt to gain some distance, I plugged our old address into Zillow, as the tweet had originally instructed. The Westbourne house hasn’t sold in over 10 years, so there are no photos of the inside. There were, however, some basic stats about the house. Most I knew from memory (beds and baths, built in the mid-70s), and I learned that my old home is no longer within the boundaries of my old elementary school, but one fact really threw me. The house is 816 square feet. Now that I’ve been adulting for quite some time and have owned three homes and lived in four, I have a much better idea of what square footage feels like. And I know that 816 square feet is small for a family of four.

I fully recognize that I am a privileged, snobby, spoiled white girl writing about this. Yes, I am fully aware that an 816-square-foot house would be a godsend to many, many families. Yes, I know that I was lucky to have that home when I did. And yes, I know that I am a privileged, snobby, spoiled white girl. Might as well own it.

I’m not saying it’s bad that it’s 816 square feet. I’m saying that in my mind’s eye, that place is more like 1,800 square feet. A whole thousand square feet bigger than what it really is. How does that happen? It’s like going into a parent/teacher conference as a parent and being forced to sit in the tiny kindergarten chairs and thinking, “These were bigger when I was a kid.” Only in this case, it’s a whole house.

I know that memory is faulty, that sometimes (or most times) we end up remembering the stories about events more than the events themselves. But with this new realization, looking at my memories now comes with a new filter. I’m now mentally adjusting the layout of the house, and the events that happened with that layout, down to a smaller scale. My memories, for lack of a better word, are shrinking.

This is the ultimate in irony, as I watch my mother’s memories and abilities shrink from Alzheimer’s. If I was 10 years old in the memory I described above, the one of the perfect night, that would have made my mother 30. Twelve years younger than I am now. She was young and vibrant and beautiful and devious and deceptive. She drove fast and drank hard, often at the same time. And none of us knew, on that perfect night or after, what lay ahead.

There’s power in the past, and while it can and should be harnessed (after all, we who do not learn from our past are doomed to repeat it), we must also be careful to not let it overwhelm where are now. The 816 has been stuck in my head since yesterday, rolling around, popping up when I’m not expecting it. It’s bringing a lot of baggage for 816 square feet. I don’t live there any more, and I’m not 10 any more, and in fact, my own daughter is now 10. I know that instead of making my mother’s mistakes, I am committing sins of my own, just in a much larger house. On our own perfect nights, where the fire is glowing in the fireplace and my daughter is doing her homework and I know she had a great day because we had our Girl Scout meeting and her father is sitting in the kitchen working on his laptop and I am making a dinner I know my family will enjoy, I realize that I still don’t know what the future holds. I am coming to terms with that, because I am here now, and I am writing it all down, and because M and I are giving our daughter the firm, unshakeable foundation I never had, and that’s got to be worth something.

The case for disconnection

There are days when I think it would be best to live completely off-line. Off the grid. Like a Luddite. In a cave. Fingers in ears screeching “la la laaaaa I can’t heeeeear youuuuu!” Today, through Facebook, Twitter and CNN, I learned the following:

  • A road rage incident in New Mexico led to the shooting death of a four-year-old girl.
  • A Texas history text book says that slaves immigrated to the United States to be workers on agricultural plantations. Immigration, of course, implying choice, and workers implying payment for services rendered, neither of which is remotely accurate.
  • A woman visiting her doctor (in Texas, by the way) was shot when another patient’s gun fell out of a purse and discharged. More proof that more guns is absolutely what we need in this country.
  • On a local note: the Mazda dealer that jerked me around apparently does that to all the idiots who buy cars from them. I’m looking at you, Lou Fusz Mazda. Misery does love company (in other words, I’m glad I’m not the only person who made a mistake in purchasing from that dealer), but my blood pressure rocketed up in sympathy for my friend.

The day wasn’t all bad. Apparently the world has decided to go crazy over:

  • The new Star Wars movie trailer.
  • The fact that today is The Day of the Future in Back to the Future.

Being a fan of both movies, I can get on that wagon.

Facebook also let me know that three years ago today I was in Palm Springs, California hanging out with an amazing group of women photographers, and five years ago today I was in Newport, Rhode Island, on a business trip that gave me downtime to wander and make images. Both are incredible memories that I don’t think of regularly, especially the Newport trip, so I am grateful for the reminder.

I suppose the lesson in all this is that I should accept the good with the bad, and try to focus on the positives. Like funny cat videos available any time I want to see them.

Except for Texas. I’m ready to just let that entire state go. (Can we keep San Antonio and Austin, though? Thanks.)

Farewell, Tesson Ferry Branch

TessonFerryBranch

The St. Louis County Library announced the pending closure of the Tesson Ferry Branch today. The building is old and in need of too much repair, and the property is too small to build another library in its place. The Library has instead constructed a gorgeous new building near Grant’s Farm to take the Tesson Ferry Branch’s place. It will be called, appropriately, Grant’s View Branch. The new library, according to the renderings and the construction photos posted on SLCL’s Flickr page, is a pantheon to books. Huge, two-story windows let in tons of natural light, perfect for reading. There are designated resource centers and meeting rooms, and the building, as one would expect in 2015, is all wired up for technology. It is truly lovely.

And yet, I am so saddened about the Tesson Ferry Branch’s demise. This branch was my branch when I was a child. It was my library. This branch sent out the bookmobile that came to the elementary school that was a 10-minute bike ride from my house.

Here’s an excerpt from a January 10, 2007 blog post that explains just how much the bookmobile means to me:

Every once in awhile, when I’m out driving here or there, I see a St. Louis County Public Library Bookmobile, and I smile.

The summer before 7th grade, my folks moved from Jefferson County to South County. Not too far, but to a 7th grader, well, they may as well have taken me to Guam. All I knew was that I no longer knew where I lived, and I had no friends. That summer I spent a lot of time on my bike, exploring the subdivisions around my new home and generally trying to get my bearings. Finding another kid my age would have been a perk, too. Eventually, I found my way through the subdivision behind us and discovered a path that led directly to my new middle school and my sister’s new grade school.

Then, one day, while riding up there and circling around as I usually did out of sheer boredom, I saw something in the grade school parking lot I had never seen before. There was a big truck that had pulled a large trailer onto the lot. The markings on it said, “St. Louis County Public Library Bookmobile.” Huh? Now, I was an avid reader even at that age (always have been, actually: my former elementary school librarian had made special rules for me in second grade because I had read almost all the second grade books in the library, and when no one was looking she let me skirt the ropes blocking us from the third grade section), but I had never seen a bookmobile before. Hell, I didn’t even know bookmobiles existed.

After sitting there on my bike, scrutinizing the outside of the trailer for a long time, watching people go in with books and come out with different books, I finally steeled up my nerve. It looked like they let anyone go in, after all. I parked the bike and gingerly climbed the metal grate steps, pulling cautiously on the rectangular latch of the door. I peeked inside, and it was like nirvana.

Books! Shelves and shelves, rows and rows of books! In a trailer, for Pete’s sake! I think my eyes must have been the size of saucers, because finally the bookmobile librarian explained to me exactly what a bookmobile was, and how I could use it, for free.

I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

Once a week, I could ride my bike up to the grade school and visit the bookmobile. I could check out seven books at a time, for free, just like at the big library, and return them up to two weeks later. I got my very first library card that day, on the spot. It was laminated and it had my name on it and everything. I think that library card became one of my most cherished possessions, alongside the bike.

I have no idea how many books I checked out and read that summer. I can say that I took advantage of the seven book maximum and stuffed my backpack full every week, racing home to start on my newfound treasures.

What had started out to be the worst summer of my short life (my parents had moved me to Guam after all) ended up being probably one of the best, thanks to the Bookmobile.

So, whenever I see a St. Louis County Public Library Bookmobile, I smile. And remember.

My mother took us to the library every once in awhile, to the Tesson Ferry Branch. Home of my beloved bookmobile. I wanted to stay there for hours. I thought that librarians had the best job in the whole world. (In fact, I still do.) The Tesson Ferry branch smelled like the bookmobile, which is to say old and bookish, and offered thousands of titles rather than hundreds. It was the first library in the St. Louis County Library system, built in 1958. This one building was probably the genesis of my love of mid-century modern architecture and design. My fondness for the treasures within transferred easily to the container itself. The Tesson Ferry Branch and its bookmobile were my first real loves.

I am heartbroken that the Tesson Ferry Branch will be demolished soon. I understand the rationale, and am thrilled that the SLCL system will have a sparkling new facility, a beautiful gem to add to its lustrous crown. Who can ever be upset about the building of a new library? Libraries are good, and if this new facility welcomes readers and makes it easier for more people to discover the incredible gift of books then it’s all worth it. I am just sad to say goodbye to an old friend who kindled a life-long love of reading and nurtured the drifting soul of a 13-year-old girl who felt like she had briefly lost her place in the world.

My new online home

ShiftFreedom

Greetings, dear readers!

When I started blogging back in May, 2006, I never dreamed I’d

  • still be doing it
  • win the St. Louis Writers Guild Short Story contest
  • try my hand at fiction
  • start a novel
  • need to build a “platform”

But here I am. Nearly ten years later with my very own URL. I’m embarrassed to admit how much I’ve fretted over this. Months and months have gone by. I have researched and asked questions and poked around and laid awake nights thinking about it. I made some fancy business cards online with my own URL just to see what it would look like. Then I chickened out and chucked the design. I told myself that I could stay at blogger and that would be fine. Yet every time I worked my way through a “new author” program I learned all the reasons why I needed my own site. And every time someone has asked me for my website, I’ve been just a bit shy about still forking over that old blogger address.

Finally, I decided that I just needed to jump in. So here I am. It’s a bit cold right now, but it’ll warm up, right?

Will work on transferring my old blog posts here, to have everything in one spot, but until then, you can visit my old home any time you want. Just ask me for the link.

There. That’s not so bad, is it? (That’s for me, not you. I know you’re fine.)

Welcome.