Sunday, November 29, 2009
I'm thankful for the demands my children place upon me because it means not only that I've been lucky enough to become a mother, but also that they need me.
I'm thankful for a sink full of dirty dishes because it means we put food on the table another day.
I'm thankful those long evenings when Mike works late because it means he's on the clock.
I'm thankful for the 25 minute drive to dance class because it means we have the means to participate, that my daughters have the interest to continue, and that my children are having fun and getting good exercise.
I'm thankful for the argument about politics around the table on Thanksgiving afternoon because it means we live in a nation where argument is possible.
I'm thankful for the baby weight I'm carrying around because it means so many things--I didn't die in childbirth, I'm not living in a war-torn starvation zone, I brought three lovely children to the light.
I'm thankful for my curly hair. Maybe if I say it enough I'll finally be so.
I'm thankful for this busy season because it means I have people around me I want to busy for and with.
I'm thankful for the woman at church who makes me absolutely crazy because it means I'm part of a community I care deeply for. This one I say through mentally clenched teeth. But it's true. If I didn't care about my parish, she wouldn't bug me.
Sometimes I'm amazed how much of my life begins and ends at Pius these days. I've decided I can't hesitate in that anymore. I can't worry about if (when) this ends. I have to be here now and be grateful.
Happy (Belated) Thanksgiving!
Come read if you'd like.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
1. Modern dentistry. Truly.
2. Next Gen. I am thankful for dorky star trek shows from the 1990s. Yes. I am.
3. Coffee on Wednesday mornings with Janet and Ann.
4. The sweetgum outside this window, for the first time in 11 years, was orange and black-purple and fire red. It's always just been yellow. Ah.
5. Sophia's classroom teacher.
6. Stability and the position in life I hold that has allowed me to live out this vow.
7. Edna St. Vincent Millay poems.
8. Time I've spent with those who are now gone.
9. People who don't even know me who stop here to read what I have to say. And the people who do know me who keep reading anyway.
10. The last line of the desiderata: With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.
Monday, November 23, 2009
half tailed, black brown fur matted
Wooly bear kitty
See, the dog died. And I had a trashcan filled with dog food. So I asked around, and Jim across the street took it for his dog. I was glad to move it along. My pantry has this big open space now. But the trashcan was heavy, and as I dragged it onto the front porch, about a quart or so spilled on the boards.
And see, our porch is wood, like a deck, really, and in bad shape but that's another story. I scooped up almost all the spilt food but crumbs and a few chunks remained. Whatever, I thought. Maybe a squirrel will eat it.
Then yesterday I saw what was going to eat it. A scruffy long-haired black and brown stray cat. Round yellow eyes. Fluffy, but probably covering up complete scrawniness. I caught it in the front yard and clicked to it, but it ran a bit further away. My neighbor who runs a cat rescue organization saw me and came out. Said she'd caught that one in a trap a few days back and it was totally feral. And I could see then that it was. But its ear was clipped (the sign of "I've been neutered" for outdoor stray cats). And I noticed it had half a tail.
Later, it was on the porch munching the dog food. Cleaned it all up overnight. This morning I got home from Target and it was on the porch finding the crumbs left behind. Saw me and ran, but not far. Just to the yard where the maple stump is. We regarded each other again. I took Leo and my things inside and then went down to the cats' bowls on the basement landing. Thought about how they could probably come upstairs now that Dara won't steal their food. Grabbed a handful out of Jack's bowl and took it outside. Cat was still in the front yard. I put the handful of dry food on the corner of my porch and went inside so I wouldn't intimidate it.
It's gone now.
I've never fed a stray before. But this one with its ear clipped probably is neutered and therefore isn't going to be producing more strays. And there's something about it, or maybe something about me, that urges me to make its life a little easier.
It's going to be cold soon.
Sunday, November 22, 2009
How old was your mom when she had you? 23
How many siblings do you have? 3
How many people live in your household? 5
What is your zip code? 63118
What year was your first car made? 1974 1/2 (Triumph Spitfire)
What year is your current vehicle? 2000
How many piercings do you have? 2
How many tattoos do you have? 0
How many creamers do you take in your coffee? Probably 2; I prefer a splash of 1/2 and 1/2.
What time did you wake up this morning? 7:51
What is the latest you’ve stayed up this week? 11:45ish
How old were you when the Challenger blew up? 11
What year did you graduate high school? 1992
How old were you when you got married? 21
How old were you when you had kids? 26, 29, 34
How many kids do you have? 3
How many pieces of jewelry are you wearing right now? 1
How many different houses have you lived in? 18 not counting dorms and temporary apartments (less than a month while we waited to move in sort of thing)
What is your average electric bill? $110
What is your lucky number? 6
How many windows are in the room you’re in? 2 sort of; it's a loft open to the stairwell which also has a window but originally it wasn't in this room proper.
How many TV’s are in your house? 1
How many boyfriends have you had? 4? Depends on what you mean...as few as 3, as many as
Leo is finally getting that first tooth. I can feel the hard ridge under the gum. Finally.
The girls' room redecorating/rearranging of furniture has worked wonders so far and has brought to light the fact that Sophia cannot keep anything clean. And Maeve can. Funny.
Went to a "Friend Thanksgiving" evening last night that was just what I needed this weekend with Mike away. The girls played and ran around, I drank wine, and wow was that good turkey and dressing and gravy and so on.
Sophia sings in the church choir now. It's very cute.
We are almost done with Return of the King. It is SO MUCH BETTER read aloud. Wow. When I read it the first time, well, I was 12, but still, it was so dull. Read aloud, it's really good.
We are buying 80 pounds of fat on Friday to make deer sausage and burger. Assuming Mike gets a deer. Sigh.
All the leaves are off the trees outside and the light is bright for the time being. It's a nice day--a little warm, even--and cats are sunbathing in the window next to me. Girls are upstairs playing with crayons you can use on your skin. Sophia wanted to give me a tattoo. I declined the offer.
I have almost all my Christmas shopping done, but I stress "shopping" in that sentence. I have knitting and sewing still to do. Frighteningly large amount, in fact. And the Christmas cards. It's so pretty today, maybe I'll try to take the kids' picture. I might even write a letter this year, so that everyone else can feel happy about their own lives. Yikes has this been a crappy year for Chez Wissinger. But always within reason and never too hard.
I keep hearing Dara downstairs. It doesn't freak me out. It just makes me catch my breath and realize, no, I don't hear Dara downstairs. And I won't ever again.
But I've caught myself ruminating on Dog Part II. Maybe. Maybe not. I'm torn.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
There are some strong personalities in the room and I tend not to have much to say about things I don't have direct control or influence over because I'm a bit intimidated by several of them. Not in a bad way, necessarily, but in a way that I know I will defer to strong opinions because I do not have the experience, age, or education to back up my thoughts. So I don't say much.
Which makes me wonder why I go, right? I could just go to Art and Environment and leave it at that. But I fear that A&E will be misrepresented and so I go for that part of the meeting. And the rest of the time, I sort of endure.
But a few months ago, we had a wonderful meeting. As I left, I realized why. One person was absent and it made all the difference. The other strong personalities were still in the room but I felt like I could put in my two cents and not get shot down. And it wasn't that this one person was always the one being negative, either--it was like having her there made everyone else sort of on edge. And then she wasn't there and it worked how it should. It was the first worship commission meeting I'd attended in however long I'd been going that I didn't go home and complain to Mike. It was a good meeting. Productive, creative, light-hearted without getting too far afield or coarse or repetitive.
Last night was another meeting. She was there. At one point, I almost just left. Nothing big had happened, nothing over the top or shocking or terrible. It was just...her. I kept thinking about things I could have been doing at home: reading bedtime stories, helping with bathtime, with Leo. Laundry. Calling my aunt. Scrubbing grout. Whatever.
When it was finally done, I went to the car and KEZK had Christmas music on. The most wonderful time of the year, which is a song that makes me shake my head and laugh anyway, the relentless demands for cheerfulness. But I just cried. I had let her put me in such a bad mood. And I thought to myself, never again. I'm not going back. It doesn't do anything for anyone to have me be there. I report things about church environment, sure, but I could do that over email. Her presence snuffs mine out.
But what really should happen is she should go. Or she should be reined in. And I'm right about ready to do that. Just screw politeness and get brave and do it.
When it's all said and done, though, I don't have to go back to another worship meeting until February. So I'll just see if I'm in a better place by then. Because life is too short.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
2. She'd sit on the landing, watching people move on the street. She could see them, they couldn't see her.
3. We'd go to Rock Eddy with her and she'd walk in the woods with us until she could hardly move. She'd whimper while she slept, sore city dog.
4. Cats would walk by her, get close and tease, and she would hold her head up and look alarmed. She wouldn't bite. Wouldn't lunge. But she wanted to.
5. She loved liver treats. She would do tricks for liver treats. She'd let me put a liver treat on her nose while commanding her to "leave it" and she would. She'd quiver and shake, but she'd wait until she was done.
6. She lived in our house for a week before she ran out the front door and ran away down to Grand. She got hit by a car, grazed on one side. We got her back, Mike carrying her in. She was fine--just dazed and her fur on that side was shorn a bit from the impact. She never crossed the street, any street, without us again.
7. She knew when the side gate was unlocked and would leave the backyard. She wouldn't go far. Just go sit on other folks' porches. Or ours.
8. In the middle of the night, I would sometimes wake up to her growling and then a single yelp. That meant it was early Tuesday morning and the milkman was here.
9. Other nights I would wake up to the horribly annoying sound of her licking her paw very very very slowly. Lick. Lick. Lick. This made me absolutely insane. But if I banished her from the room she would whine in the hall. So she got a sharp "Dara!" and she learned eventually that this meant the licking should stop.
10. She really loved the UPS guy. Probably her favorite visitor. He always brought treats and chatted her up.
And she'd lost 20 pounds since September. This was a gigantic shock--when you live with someone, even a dog, every day, you just don't see it until suddenly you do, and then you feel absolutely awful.
So I went to pick up the girls at SCOSAG (the children's art studio they go to, for those not sitting in south St. Louis right now) and Mike stayed with Dara. As I left, it was obvious, way too obvious, that she hurt and was not doing well. We had debated taking her home and...what? Wait for her to die this weekend? I just don't think that would have worked either.
The girls were really broken up about it, which made me sad, too. We'd prepared them but the actual time, when it comes, is always a zinger. Maeve demanded a puppy. Sophia thought maybe we should wait. But not too long. And then we got home and they realized that even though it was dark, it was only 5:20 and they could still play with friends. Away they went. I hope they were ok. We're bringing them home in 10 minutes to go get pizza or something. I don't feel like cooking right now.
We're heading to Rock Eddy in the spring, like always--the photo above is from this May. She's gone with us every time since we started going there nine autumns ago. We're going to take her ashes with us and spread them in Clifty Creek or something like that. That's where she was always happiest.
I just realized I'll have to tell the UPS guy. That makes me laugh and cry all over again.
I don't talk about her much because we're not friends. I'm not a dog person. I never have been. Starting with our first lab back when I was 8, I find dogs to be stinky messy loud animals. I just don't like them. I do like Dara, because she doesn't lick me, doesn't try to get on my bed, and does her job (which is looking like a scary dog and barking loud when strangers approach).
She has had a long gentle decline into old age. Her eyes got a little cloudy, but she could still see ok unless it was dusk. She got slow, but some weight loss helped that. Her ears started to go a bit--and so she get jumpy with noises. But she's been ok. Then of course earlier this fall we had the explosive diarrhea all over my kitchen floor. Still recovering from that. I thought that was the end, frankly. But she recovered and came home and was ok. Old but ok.
She's not ok anymore. Last week she stopped eating her full allotment of food. Not a big deal, really. She'd come back and eat more later. She rested more, but, again, not a big change. But in the past few days, she stopped eating hard food altogether. Mike thought maybe she had a tooth hurting her, and picked up some ground beef. Made her beef and rice, which we'd done before for her when she was sick many years ago. She had a few bites but still wasn't interested. And then Mike mentioned last night that hurt tooth or no hurt tooth, it doesn't make you stop drinking water. I don't refill the water bowl--Mike's job--and he said he hasn't really had to refill it.
So that's no good. Food discomfort might be a tooth or old age or whatever, but even with my worst tooth pain I still drink water. So we're going to the vet today at 4:30 while the girls are at SCOSAG to try to get our vet to give us the hard truth. Really. If this is the end, it's the end. If it's a tooth infection that needs to be taken care of and on we go for another year or so, great. But if this is kidneys or something like that, then let's be honest with each other.
If I hadn't already said I wasn't a dog person there would now be no doubt. A few years back Bleys, my big orange kitty, got sick and it looked like it might be his kidneys. I was a blubbering mess. Absolutely stricken and horribly sad. He recovered--it was probably a little arthritis making it hard for him to jump to the counter where the food was kept, and thus he'd stopped eating, and thus weight loss, etc. Bleys is fine now. But Dara's potentially impending death isn't getting to me the same way. It will be sad but it's been a good life. It will be hard to find a dog as good and gentle and scary looking (the combo) as Dara.
Perhaps we won't try.
Monday, November 16, 2009
It suddenly hit me that I have ten days until Thanksgiving and then it's less than a month to Christmas. I want to hide. Having a 10 month old is not making this Christmas season preparations easy, let me tell ya.
I am in charge of Christmas at my house. I decide what is going to each person, whether we're going to purchase or make or (yes, we do) regift whatever it is. I buy everything, make everything, clean everything, cook everything, decorate 50% of everything (tree is a family affair with me in charge and trying not to yell as children casually pick up and practically throw onto the tree ornaments that hung on my great-grandmother's tree ages ago. I do succeed--I have never yelled at kids over something so trivial. But I have to TRY). I wrap everything, coordinate everything, dress everyone, send everything, everything. It's mine. Not to mention being in charge of church decorating (that really should get more than two words--it is a big job) and helping out with my parents' Christmas party.
And I love it. This is not a complaint. I know as Sophia gets older she will want to do more, and she does already (she tries to wrap, she does). Maeve seems to be the type that won't want to help, but actually that isn't fair because she's always on the lookout for Sophia gift ideas. Very sweet.
This year, though, with the new HVAC and the "Economy" as everyone keeps saying, and three kids instead of two, and blah blah blah, I'm a little more creative in all this, which takes time (instead of money). And attention. It takes attention. Leo, have I mentioned that he is moving around, cruising and crawling and eating dog food? There isn't a lot of "put the baby down get some knitting done" time. And there certainly isn't any time with less attention to baby than that, even. I am having a hard time getting sewing done. Sewing is more dangerous with babies than knitting, after all.
My kids (all kids) crave tradition and routines, even routines that are out of our routine, like holiday traditions. Cutting a tree down with my parents, decorating it that evening. Baking. Setting up their little trees in their room. Reading the right stories, seeing the right movies, doing Christmas crafts, and so forth. Last year we did not make a gingerbread house, and I've been reminded by Sophia that this should happen in 2009 (remember last year? I had an inner ear infection and was 8 months pregnant? Does it ever end??).
So I'm trying to get ready. Trying not to despair. I can get that superhero cape made for Maeve, nothing to it, if I just get to it. The two knitting projects, the few small sewing projects, the Christmas cards. I just have to do them. As many many pastors and homilists have pointed out to me and so many other congregations, I have as much time as anyone else. I just have to choose how to use it.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
So I've added word verification as well. I'm sorry, I know that is annoying since I also have comment moderation (due to a troll). But it just got too annoying to find an inbox full of crap from all angles possible!
Thursday, November 12, 2009
I'm a welcoming gal. I love my girl scout troop. I love these girls, watching them grow and learn things and become independent. And most of my council irritations are resolved for the moment (new ones will come, I know). We're going camping in December and I have all my ducks currently in a row and things are good.
I have 18 registered scouts. Five juniors, 12 3rd grade brownies, and 1 2nd grade brownie. And I have one girl who is yet unregistered and whose mother is the infamous cookie mom from last year. She comes to meetings...but keeps forgetting to bring either the form or the checkbook or both or I forget to bring a blank form and so forth. It's fine if she's at the meeting, frankly, because mom hovers in the background (against my wishes so she can "help out"), but it means no field trips until we get this all squared away.
It's not all squared away and so Cookie Girl didn't get to go with us to the district hayride last week. It sucks, but that's the way the cookie crumbles, so to speak. Anyway, she came again on Tuesday and I didn't have any forms and she didn't have hers and I need to get one to school and so forth. I'm stuck with this mom and that's all there is to it and I've learned to just kind of move forward in my mind.
But my youngest girl, I'll call her Little, is really young in comparison. Even though my girls are mostly 3rd graders, they are leaps ahead of her maturity-wise. They've been in girl scouts a long time, they are ready to do fun stuff out and about, while Little is, well, little. Kind of like a younger sister to some of the girls, frankly. I split the girls into patrols this past meeting and Little's patrol did things for her (three girls were from a multi-age classroom at Sophia's school, and then Little was sort of tagging along with their plans).
They were split up into patrols to plan some things for the camping trip. Four patrols, four tasks: game, craft, flag ceremony, and "scout's own" ceremony. I gave the tasks out once I saw how the randomized patrols developed--the ones with a couple of older girls got the ceremonies, and the two patrols of all-3rd grade got the game and craft. They had to pick a patrol leader, a patrol name, and plan their task.
They did GREAT. Except for Cookie Mom interfering in her daughter's patrol (and making sure her daughter was picked as patrol leader--I know this because Sophia was in that patrol as well), it went so well. They argued and debated and compromised and learned what a scout's own ceremony is, etc.
Just as I split girls into patrols, though, a new wrinkle developed. A woman walked in (Cookie Mom let her in when she buzzed the door) with two girls. "You wouldn't believe how hard it was to get here, I'm so sorry we're late."
I asked if she'd meet me in the back of the room in a moment. I got the girls started and met her back there. I asked her, as delicately as I could, who the heck she was. She introduced herself as a friend of another mom who had once come to a meeting where I was listed as the girl scout leader and the times of my meetings. I couldn't place the other mom, either, in my mind, but the daughter's name rang a bell. I'd received a registration form for her but no dues and no real indication as to what it was all about. I'd kept it...and waited.
Talking with this mom, I learned several things. 1) neither girl knew a single person in the room except each other. 2) no one had a connection to my parish school, my daughter's school, or my other girls who live on my block. 3) the girls each attended a different deseg school in the county. 4) one girl's mom worked and could never get to the meeting on time, and the other mom had to take off work and pull girls out of school early to get her by 4:20 (twenty minutes late). 5) one girl was in 2nd grade--just what I didn't want, more little girls.
As the meeting went on, she had a few other things to say that made me both wish I could keep her and want me to find her a better fit. She was with-it, realistic, and strong. Reminded me of some of the moms at the first school I worked in. She wasn't going to put up with BS and she wasn't going to be passive aggressive or crazy. I liked her. My kind of mom. But this wasn't going to work. I asked her if she'd be open to joining an evening brownie troop if I could find one for her.
"Honey, I'll do whatever you want me to." And I knew she meant it. Long story short, I found her a small brownie troop that met in the evening and whose leader was enthusiastic about two new girls joining.
That semi-solved (I solved it the next day), I ended the meeting with Cookie Mom going crazy over the snack, over the game Sophia's patrol had picked, over nothing. She waited for me so we could walk together to our cars and thanked me again and again for all my work. I try to take it on face value but she wears me out. And I got home and ten minutes later the phone rang. Little's mom.
Little's mom, by the way, had tore me a new one in absentia at the new parents meeting with our neighborhood chair back in September. Supposedly I'd denied her daughter access to the troop (not true--she'd never called me). "I called and called and tried to get Little into her troop and she was totally uncooperative." This my co-leader told me later--when I showed up at the meeting finally, she buttered me up and (this is always a red flag for me) trashed the leader of Little's OLD troop. It wasn't until I had her registration and check on my coffee table at home that I realized Little was a second grader. Too late to do anything at that point, really. I let her join and I shouldn't have. Oh well.
So anyway, she's on the phone with me. "I'm calling because Little said there wasn't any more room for moms to go camping with you and I told her surely she had that wrong and that I'd make sure I could camp with her."
Has everyone lost her mind?
"No," I sighed. "It's a really small lodge and I already have my 4 adults. There just isn't room this time, although there will be future camping trips, of course."
"Oh, then I guess Little can't go."
"No, that's not it--it's not a mother-daughter weekend. She is welcome to go. I'm sorry if that wasn't clear." I don't know how I could have made it clearer, frankly, but still.
"What I mean is, Little won't camp without me. She can't sleep without me there."
This is true of other girls. It's true for Sophia to an extent--I think she'd be fine with a mom she knew, for instance. And she has several friends who are comfortable because I'm going, or my co-leader, but who would be skittish if they went to summer camp all alone. But this mom has done zip since signing Little up. She's not a registered scout (that I know of) and it grated on me that she made the assumption (and reassured her daughter) that she'd be able to go. I will fully admit that this next exchange as I write it could have been more diplomatic.
"Perhaps Little would feel more comfortable in a troop with girls her age," I said. And then this gal let loose all over me. She'd CALLED council (just like she'd called me last year??). NOBODY returned her calls. Little had ALWAYS been in troops with older girls. It wasn't a problem BEFORE. What did I have planned that I thought wouldn't be appropriate, anyway?
"If she isn't comfortable staying with the troop overnight without you," I started, and she cut me off. She said that Little had never been away from her at night and the only way her daughter was going was if she was, too. I reiterated the small space, the moms who had already signed up, people I knew would handle the girls well for their first trip.
That was also a mistake, and I know it. She said that she had camped with girl scout troops before and no one ever complained. I sighed and tried again.
"I'm sorry it's not going to work out this time but she's welcome to come for the day on Saturday."
She said she might consider that. I could tell she was pissed. Little was crying in the background, screaming, really, and I heard a door close and the crying cease. Then she softened. "Sorry about that. She just really wanted to go. I just thought moms were welcome."
"You are welcome," I tried again too. "Just this time I have the beds full. It only sleeps 24 and I have, potentially, 19 or 20 girls going."
"Oh," she said, like this finally hit home. "I didn't know your troop was so big." And at that point I thought it was going to be even large, frankly, with the two new girls (this was before I fixed that). We got off the phone, again with her THANKING me for all I do.
I had dinner with Mike's brother Steve and his wife Mary. They brought over the main course and I made copperfield salad. Mike brought home one of Russell's awesome gooey butter cakes. By the end of the meal, I felt better.
Focus. It's so easy to lose it.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Sophia is my eldest. Maeve is the middle child. And a part of me began to fill with growing doubt about the kindergarten program at our school. Seriously. One teacher is an unknown; a second is past retirement age and didn't mesh with Maeve really well when she was in the preschool; and the third, well. She's the one who admitted at the end-of-year conference in Sophia's first grade that "Sophia is so well behaved and quiet we just don't notice her at all!" Talk about a waste of a year. She's simply not effective. Something in my head told me I needed to get myself a back up plan. Something to pull out if need be. I didn't really act on this until Monday night when suddenly I looked up the new charter school in town that is a French-immersion grade school. I went for a tour yesterday.
It was almost two hours long, a presentation, Q&A, and a tour. The school has a LOT of money. Very shiny space (compared to our school's church basement atmosphere). The concept of language immersion is appealing, although upon reflection I wonder if it was simply wish fulfillment on my end--I would have loved to have attended a school like that! The student teacher ratio is 10:1, there is a native French speaker for the lead and an aide who learned French later in life in each classroom. Orderly. Demanding. Exhausting. Challenging.
I started thinking, "this would be something just for Maeve. Not following Sophia. Not doing the same thing. Something new, special, different." I started worrying that if I didn't take advantage, she'd miss out on something. But I started looking more closely.
We'd be leaving behind Montessori and child-led learning. Whole class teaching seemed to be the name of the game there--well, split in two or three big groups. Names were taped down to the tables, indicating that children stay in one spot a great deal of the time. The school day is like any other but it seems almost an unwritten rule that children attend before- and after-care which could extend the day to 7:30-5:30 or even 6:00. More teaching and enrichment happen during those times. And the school year is also extended, leaving really only the month of July and one week on either side in June and August for vacation--and nothing was said about longer breaks during the year.
Stabilitas, Mike whispered in my ear. Don't be distracted by shiny things. And for the most part, for almost the whole part, our school is where we belong. I'm already a loud voice there. I know the score. I'd be splitting attention between two schools, and then what for Leo along the way? He wouldn't be grandfathered into Sophia's school...what if language immersion doesn't sound so hot for him?
I started to realize that school is more than an idea. What drew me to Sophia's school was watching a teacher demonstrate a place value lesson. The clouds opened, the earth moved. What drew me to the French school was shininess. Lots of money, great space, and a new idea I hadn't considered. But I didn't see anything really spectacular or different in the classroom--maybe I wasn't looking closely enough.
Maybe I'll regret it. Or maybe I'd regret it in the other direction. But in the end, I like everything about the curriculum at our school at this point. The kindergarten teacher in question may leave this summer. Or she may stay. Whatever. She isn't the lead anymore, and Maeve isn't the sort to be unnoticed.
"It was easier when I didn't know about this school," I lamented to Mike on the phone.
"When you said you were going to go look at it, I thought that might happen," he said in return. I sometimes hate having choices. It makes it hard to stay and make something good even better. But I do: at my parish, my neighborhood, my marriage, my children. I can do it with school, too.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
1. Ice a cake that makes it look like, well, a cake. I'm really good at glazes; I love bundt cake shapes. Three layer rounds? I just can't make it work.
2. Play the guitar. I have tried and failed.
3. Sing. I can sing. But not really.
4. Shoot a rifle. I think this is something I could be good at if I tried. Just haven't.
5. Save someone from drowning. I actually might be working on this soon, in the next few years--the girl scouts are pretty strict about who gets to go where and do what and I might as well get my lifeguard certificate (this one is pretty close to happening--I'm a strong swimmer and I've taken lifesaving. Just never finished it).
6. Touch type the numbers at the top of the keyboard. I always mess up unless I'm looking. Especially when I want the punctuation above and the shift key is down. I'm always putting a ^ when I want a &.
7. Distinguish between good mushrooms and bad mushrooms in the wild. I will probably never work to make this happen, I'm just too timid about poison.
8. Tatting. I'd love to be able to do tatting like my great-grandmother could, fast and tight. Once again, I've tried and never got the hang of it. Too slow and clumsy. I'll stick to knitting, sigh.
9. Grow anything in the cucumber family on purpose. Like I said in my last post, they just don't work in my yard. Or with me. Cucumbers, watermelon, squash (although my family would hate it if I grew squash), melons, pumpkins, zucchini, etc. Volunteer pumpkins is as close as I've ever come to success, and that was by mistake and after 10 years of trying and failing to grow other family members. How I wish for homegrown cucumbers. Sigh.
10. Ok, one in the realm of superheroes: I wish I could shoot fire from my fingertips. That would be useful.
Monday, November 09, 2009
When I felt more gung-ho about gardening, I spent some time perusing heirloom seeds catalogs. This was how I found black tomatoes, for instance, and also realized there is no cucumber on earth I can get to survive in my yard. I experimented with many different old-fashioned varieties of plants right on the beginning of the heirloom gardening craze. And then I settled down on some heirloom tomatoes and everything else pretty much conventional hybrids. But there was a garlic that was suggested for Missouri specifically, and how could I pass that up? Grown originally by the Osage tribe, it was advertised as vigorous, prolific, and hardy.
It is all three.
I planted the first sprouts 5 or 6 years ago. That first year, I got miniature bulbs, which I was told to then plant in the fall to get good-sized bulbs the following year. This I did, and I also planted the seed heads for a crop two years from then. For the next few years, we had hard-neck garlic bulbs with a wonderful flavor that dried well and did everything you'd want them to do. We gave some to relatives and neighbors. My gardening neighbor across the street followed me into the two year piggy-back process of growing this variety (and with much much larger results than I ever had!).
Last summer, though, the crop was bountiful but rotted in the house. I did everything I was supposed to do, I thought, but hardly any of it lasted. I still don't know what went wrong. So I didn't have anything to plant last fall, and I figured my years of growing garlic would be on-pause until I had the energy and time to order new sprouts and try again.
Well, this summer, I had a modest crop anyway--it's a two year process after all, so not all was lost. And it dried fine and is still good three months later. Smallish bulbs but still tasty.
But since this summer was also the summer when my health sort of crashed and I had a new baby and so forth, the garden and yard went to seed. Literally. I went out to the caged in garden yesterday, where some garlic grew even though it doesn't need chicken wire protection, and all those seed heads I'd failed to harvest to save for planting? They planted themselves. I would say I had over 500 sprouts already started there in the back garden, about half in the path. I replanted some, carelessly, tossing them in where the mint is overtaking things (I pulled up mint first), where I'll later plant tomatoes, where the jalapeno plant got pulled up. I covered the new sprouts with peat moss.
I am never planting garlic in the fall again. I am never digging up a bed and carefully placing the little bulbs and tiny seed pods, covering them with loose soil and hoping they'll take. Holy crap. They grow themselves. Maybe the garlic will be smaller, maybe I wouldn't win at any county fair, but garlic is grown for the taste, frankly, and I don't care if I have to chop two cloves or seven. It's all good.
So I've taught pumpkins to reseed and try again out of the compost heap. And garlic has figured out how to stay alive without me. Now if I could only get tomatoes to do the same.
Sunday, November 08, 2009
1. Baby boys in blue jeans
2. The express lane on highway 70
3. Osage heirloom garlic
4. Raked leaves
5. Sunflowers in church
6. Cabela's. Really.
7. Dutch oven lid lifter device thingies
8. Wool socks
9. Pokeweed berries--do not eat!--staining my feet as I cleaned up the yard
10. Indian food overlooking the airport
Thursday, November 05, 2009
It's not a recipe. It's a method. Like most of what I cook (and most of what I sew--I hate patterns, but I love tutorials/methods/plans).
1. Gather ingredients. This is one of the only things I cook mise en place. I chop anything that needs chopping (onion, mushrooms, leftover broccoli, cherry or grape tomatoes in half, etc). I also put eggs in a big bowl and whisk until mixed like for scrambled eggs--how many eggs? Oh, that many. I use a large frying pan and I'm feeding 4 plus Leo so I usually use 8-10 eggs. Like I said, this is what I do when I have lots of eggs around.
2.. Preheat oven to bake (350 or so). Make sure you pick a frying pan that will fit in your oven (for most this isn't a problem but my ovens are shallow).
3. Heat oil on high or medium high heat. Hot pan, cold oil, right? And then whatever aromatics you've got (garlic is always in my kitchen, and then onion, green pepper, and celery) until onion is clear and celery is tender.
4.. Add any other uncooked veggies--if I have mushrooms, for instance, I throw them in here. I don't use hard vegetables for this unless they are precooked leftovers--no cauliflower or carrots or winter squash, things that can't saute fast or just get warmed up.
5. Pour eggs over all this mess. Reduce heat on the stove to medium or so. Add whatever spice you might--I usually add a premixed pizza seasoning because I call this "Egg pizza" when I serve it to my kids. A little oregano and fennel go a long way...I might also go the quiche route and go heavy on the nutmeg (mmm).
6. As the eggs firm up, scooch them towards the center a bit (that's a technical term) and let some of the runny egg take the place. Like you would an omelet.
7. Add any other ingredients: grated cheese, sliced tomatoes, pre-cooked veggies, chopped bits of pepperoni or ham, and so forth. Don't forget olives if you're making it for Maeve.
8. Take the whole pan and stick it in the oven at this point. Close the oven, turn on the light, and watch. It doesn't take long but you want to be sure it is cooked on top. I know some people flip the frittata over first and then bake, but I've found that isn't necessary.
9. It's done when it's done--I mean, the eggs will stop running around. THE PAN IS HOT. I take the pan out and run a spatula under the edges to loosen. Then I slide it out onto a peel (pizza board) but you could use a plate if your pan is smaller, or a cookie sheet, or just serve from the pan. I serve mine with marinara on the side, or pesto, or salsa, depending on the ingredients.
I don't need to write.
And the days are getting shorter and the weather colder and I still don't need to write. I don't get out of bed in the middle of the night to type, something, anything, just a list, whatever I don't care, anymore.
I signed up to yet again participate in national novel writing month because I've done it the past two years and it's fun and gives me an excuse to write a lot.
I have two pages done so far and it's the 5th of November. What the heck is going on.
Is it bad to say I don't really even miss it? I'm confident it will return. Maybe I'm writing on the wrong topic. Or maybe I have a 9 month old and a 5 year old and an 8 year old and a girl scout troop and three blogs and a church to decorate and a kitchen to finish and a yard to clean up and my energies are placed elsewhere for the moment.
I won't go away, but I'm thinking I'm not going to get 10,000 well-crafted words done this month. But I will try when I can. I have two very very nice pages complete, after all.
2 c chocolate chips (I use semi-sweet)
1/3 c coffee liqueur (I have skipped this before and threw in more vanilla and honey instead but if I have it I use it)
1 block silken tofu
1 t vanilla extract
1 T honey
1 store-bought chocolate wafer crust (or graham cracker, really, it's fine)
Place a small metal bowl over a saucepan with simmering water. Melt the chocolate and coffee liqueur in the bowl. Stir in vanilla.
Combine the tofu, chocolate mixture, and honey in the blender jar. Liquefy until smooth.
Pour the filling into the crust and refrigerate for 2 hours, or until the filling is set.
Tuesday, November 03, 2009
1. Hydraulic Avenue. I wish my street was named Hydraulic Avenue. It's a residential street. Awesome.
2. Arsenal Street. Again with the wishing. Arsenal is only three blocks from me. It's a through-street that runs a long way.
3. Pestalozzi Street. My parents live on Pestalozzi, named for the Swiss educator. Pestalozzi means always having to spell your address to everyone.
4. Marwinette Street. This was named for the wives of the three developers in the area (down near the River des Peres): Marie, Winifred, and Jeanette.
5. Morganford. Literally Morgan's Ford, down at the River des Peres. I'll piggy-back Tesson Ferry, Lemay Ferry, and Dougherty Ferry into this as well.
6. Goethe Avenue. Again. I wish my street was named Goethe.
7. Vandeventer Avenue. Once in college a professor let us know that no self-respecting Dutchman would ever pronounce this street the way we do (VAN duh venter). Ever since then I have pronounced it like he did (van DEV enter).
8. Pernod Avenue. Named for absinthe. Can't go wrong there.
9. Winnebago Street. We have lots of tribal names in St. Louis but Winnebago is my favorite due to the cross referenced RV.
10. Gravois. Not only do we pronounce it "Gra-voy) but it is French for gravel or rubble. This used to be the road to the dump, called "Diggins Road."
Here's my thoughts thus far. My career as a teacher is over. Gone. Torn down and the ground sowed over with sod. And yet something from when I taught is important, something is key, so to speak, and I need to figure out (unlock?) what that is.
I think it has to do with Sophia. I went to the parent-teacher conference last Friday and I've been a mess ever since. We're working on the dyslexia front, yes. The teachers are aware of this. And she had nothing but positive things to say about Sophia. She's lovely. She works diligently and is kind. She is not distracted by a multi-age montessori environment. She is good. She likes math. And so forth. And then Anne handed me the standardized test report, just these cold hard numbers, and my mind sort of zapped. Yes, reading was just below the 50th percentile, which was actually an accomplishment, I think. And her language usage, whatever that is (grammar? vocabulary?) was in the "high average" range. But math. Math was dead on 50th percentile (actually, 53rd, but it worked out the same).
"I thought Sophia was doing really well in math," I say quietly, kind of to myself. Anne looks at me like she doesn't get what the problem is.
"That's why we want her to have untimed tests, or a reader at the very least--both would be best. This test doesn't really show what she can do."
I just kept staring at the number. Because you see, I was one of those 99th percentile kids. Breezed through this stuff. And you just figure...but no.
And I was really upset. Sort of at loose ends and worried. I know statistics about functional illiteracy. I know about poverty rates among poor readers. I am a ball of anxiety.
So that night I had this dream. And I keep thinking it has something to do with what I would say again and again and again to parents: your son is a hard worker, very diligent. Don't worry about the test score. He is proving himself in the classroom and that, in the grand scheme of things, is more important. Or, I know she has a big swiss cheese hole on this test when it comes to math but she's managing to work around what's misfiring.
As a teacher, I didn't care about standardized tests. I hated giving them and I couldn't tell you a thing about who did what on them even a few weeks after the results came back. I knew that high intelligence without diligence got you nowhere. Or only so far and no further. Like me. I knew that a hard worker of average intelligence beat a smart lazy kid any day. No question.
Maybe there's more in that key than that, but I think that's a start.
"I just think it's important to be good at something, to really know you're good at it," I say to Mike while trying to hash this all out.
"I think it's more important to be interested in something," he counters. "To really enjoy something."
It's the fundamental difference between us. In practice, it comes out looking about the same, but in the end, I like to know I'm good at something. Mike just likes to learn or do or be.
So I'm trying to take some deep breaths and let some of this go.
Monday, November 02, 2009
I've gotten some good stuff off freecycle through the years--cigar boxes for the atrium, rugs for the atrium, craft supplies for brownies, spare pans for non-cooking (like wax melting), etc. I've gotten rid of good stuff too, like that infant car seat, baby clothes, books, craft junk, and so forth. I like having it in my back pocket as a "let's see if anyone..." kind of thing.
So this gal writes back and says yes, she's very interested and can be by after 9 pm that evening. Freecyclers usually leave things on porches and they magically get picked up and nobody has to interact or be weird or come in your house. So I put the stuff on the porch and go on with my day. After we get home from dinner (mmm, McGurks) there's a message from her.
"Sorry, can't pick up tonight," it begins. Really, that's all you need to say. I don't need to know why (your dog has diarrhea, your grandma died, your house is on fire, whatever). Either say that you're not going to make it or suggest a new time. Bam. Done. But no. Her message goes on: "I saw your address and my boyfriend doesn't let me anywhere near the state streets at night. I can come tomorrow at 3 or 4."
The state streets. South St. Louis has many street names (duh) but two categories dominate--state names and tribal names. So, for instance, you could live on Alabama, or Texas, or Shenandoah, or Winnebago. And yes, some state streets can be dicey. Really--I'm helping Bevin find a house and there are certain blocks I don't want her to even look at for fear that she'll fall in love with a house without looking at an area. But, you know, there's Tennessee and then there's Tennessee...these streets are long, most are north-south and cross through three or more defined neighborhoods.
So I sigh at the message and think, well, so be it. Then there's another message a few minutes later, one long run-on sentence:
"I didn't mean to be offensive in my last message and I'm afraid that's what it sounded like but it's just that my boyfriend is from St. Charles so maybe that explains it since we bought our house, which he hates where we live but too bad because we own now! he thinks that any place closer to the city than where we live is too dangerous to take the car into and I know that isn't all true because there are areas that aren't bad neighborhoods but it's his car so I can't really argue and so he's the offensive one, not me!"
And I didn't reply. She'll either pick up the clothes or not. Mike told me to be prudent and not say anything. But there were three things I really really really wanted to say:
1. You live in Overland.
2. The house across the street from me is listed at $425,000.
3. You need a new boyfriend.
But I said none of these things. Instead, I share them only with you.
Sunday, November 01, 2009
2 1/4 c sifted cake flour (I used regular flour because that's what I had)
1 1/2 c sugar
1 T baking powder
1 t salt
Sift in bowl. Make a well and add:
1/2 c oil
6 egg yolks (reserve the whites)
3/4 c cold water
2 T lemon juice
1 t grated lemon rind (instead of juice and rind I added 2 T + 1 t lemon extract)
beat with spoon until smooth. In a separate bowl combine 1/2 t cream of tartar and the 6 egg whites. Beat until very stiff. Add egg yolk mixture into the egg white bowl, spatula folding until just blended. Do not stir.
Using three (3) ungreased 9-inch round pans, bake at 325 degrees for 25-30 minutes. I would suggest parchment circles on the bottom--I didn't do this, and it took some delicate work to get them out of the pans. But they have an almost angel-foody consistency (spongy?) and they made it.
For the frosting between layers:
1/2 lb cream cheese (one box, I used neufchatel)
2 T lemon juice (again, I used extract which made things extra lemony, mmm).
4 c powdered sugar
For the icing (top and sides of cake--I made this too runny...):
Same as frosting, but blend in 1 t grated lemon zest and 8 drops yellow food color. (I did the food color but not the zest...).
Maeve ate the icing, which is what she does with any cake. Like I said, I made the icing too runny--next time I will make sure to use a full 4 cups (or more) of sugar). Her friends ate cake and icing--one told the room it was the best cake he'd ever had. I have to admit it was pretty dang good. When it's made at Easter down in Cairo, it is adorned with jelly beans but for birthday we just put sprinkles on it.
Leo was cute as always in his red wrap.
We found an astounding number of wooly bear caterpillars. At one point, I had two and Sophia and Maeve each had one. Here, Maeve learns that one must be gentle with them. Earlier she learned that they are biological creatures who sometimes leave deposits. This almost ruined her relationship with the wooly bears but she recovered and enjoyed their company again.
Maeve also learned that pumpkins are heavy.
Sophia searched a long time for a relatively light one:
Which I then carved into a loose interpretation of "Starry Night":
And a stylized cross/celtic knot thing that didn't work as well as I would have wanted. I was in a hurry:
Leo was incurable in his cuteness as a Totoro. I was very pleased with my results:
And here they are, moments before we dashed out of the house to gather candy and tell bad jokes. Maeve and Sophia decided at the last moment (like, Halloween afternoon) that they were not going to go as Mei and Satsuki after all. I think it was a wise choice. Sophia here is, again, a ranger from the Lord of the Rings, and Maeve is yet again a superhero.