Saturday, December 31, 2011

A New Year's Attempt

Well, it's the end of 2011, and while most people traditionally get rip snortin' drunk, fall headfirst into some highly questionable decisions, and then wake up to make several promises they cannot/will not keep, I am not one of them.

I'm too wise for rip snortin' drunk. I'm too old for any more questionable decisions. And I'm far too realistic about promises. Too many have been broken in my life.

But I'm not so cynical that I can't make attempts. So in 2012, my attempt will be to see the positive. Too try to see the good. To avoid running from the bad. To face down the bad with as much courage as I can muster because the bad already knows all my best hiding places.

So tonight, I've tucked myself in on the couch, put on a movie, wrangled a snuggly kitty, and poured myself a margarita. And I've thought about all my favorite memories from 2011. Because when the clock strikes, and the year turns, I only want the good creeping into my brain.

To all of you who love me, support me, make me laugh, buy me double birthday cakes, share your families, homes, and strength, I raise my glass to you. You make my life better and brighter and sometimes rowdier than all of Times Square.

Friday, December 16, 2011

I Just Don't Know...

It's been a hard Christmas, y'all.  A hard one.  And it's not even Christmas yet.

That's how hard it's been.

I'm just in the weirdest place.  There is so much good around me, but I just can't seem to shake all the Bad.  And the Bad always just seems to swallow up the good.  Swallow.  Devour.  Annihilate.  Consume.

Even when I'm happy, the Bad just seems to linger nearby, waiting to pounce.

Yesterday, a terrible thing was happening during the end of the school day.  A terrible thing that I blew off before I realized just how terrible it truly was.  And it brought grief to my school, to my friends, to my former students.  A young life, taken far too soon for all the wrong reasons.  And the person who took it was smiling as he was led to the back of the police car.

I don't know why these things happen.
I don't know why the best we have to offer are so often taken too soon.
I don't know what is wrong with our world.

I just don't know.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Happy Birthday, Alison!

This is my crazy, wonderful friend, Alison.  This happens to be one of my favorite pictures of her because it totally encapsulates our friendship.  Full of laughter.
It was taken while we were laughing maniacally at nothing of any importance whatsoever.

She's a crazy girl.  Obsessed with nail painting and Taylor Swift and obscenely huge purses and building the perfect hair bump, on the surface, you'd think that there's no possible way for us to be friends.  But we are.  And I'm glad for that.

Because, mostly, we love to laugh maniacally at nothing of any importance whatsoever. 

It's fun.  You should try it.

And we sing, loudly, on the Mule -- the camp all-terrain vehicle for most.  Motorized lounge act for us.

You should try that too.  In your car.  At the mall.  Outside your boss's office.  You know... wherever.

Happy (early) Birthday, Alison.  May your tomorrow be full of  laughter and impressively terrible, but spontaneous, song.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

I Certainly Don't Do It For The Money

I didn't want to be a teacher all my life. I didn't grow up playing school house. I certainly never had the craving to wear school bus earrings or apple sweaters.

I still don't, by the way, so don't get any bright ideas.

Yet somewhere along the way, I made a startling realization. I really love to teach people new things. Sincerely. It's not because I presume to be some kind of genius. I'm not. Or because I'm some jackass know-it-all. Because I'm not. Or at least I hope I'm not. I simply get a huge charge out of learning new things, and as I love to learn, I also love to see others learn.

It's that moment that the light bulb comes on. The smile that bespeaks confidence and accomplishment. And then the subsequent moment that person teaches someone else.

After teaching and coaching for almost twelve years, I can honestly say this: on any given day, I'll get four times as many blank looks as I do light bulbs. And that's even probably a generous estimation. The blank looks are maddening -- soul-crushing -- at times, and the continual repetition is wearing to say the least. But the challenge of seeing a problem and searching for new ways to approach it is what keeps me going.

On Friday and Saturday, I moved four of my A-Team basketball girls down to the B-Team. They were disappointed, for sure, but I asked them for only one thing: to believe that I was doing this to help them. To teach them in a space more suited to their level and at a slower pace.

And in the first game of the morning, in the most crucial time, the girl who wouldn't so much "shoot" the basketball as "attempt to crack the backboard by chunking the basketball" received the entry pass, pivoted to the goal, took a power dribble, and put up the most beautiful lay-up I've seen in a decade of awkward junior high basketball. My heart skipped a beat. And then, as if the basketball gods had not been kind enough to me already, she did it again on the very next possession. I promptly fell off the bench in a fit of giggles.

The whole gym got a little bit brighter from both of our smiles.

And that, my friends, is why I teach.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Why I'm the Dumbest Person I Know

I loves me some Diet Coke.


Really, a Diet Coke from QT, with some crushed ice is basically my A.M. lifeblood. And P.M. Let's be real. It's an all-day love affair.

So one might wonder, considering my loyal dedication to this nectar of the Gods, why I've decided to try to give it up. Because I'm stupid. That's why.

It started on Saturday with me being frugal. Wait. Strike that. Lazy. Yes, that's the word I'm looking for. I was so tired/lazy on Saturday morning, I couldn't go to the store. I couldn't get out of my pajamas or brush my hair. Not that theses are deterrents for anyone looking to visit my local Wal-Martz.

So I thought to myself, "Hey, Self. You don't need no stinkin' Diet Coke! Have some tasty tap water instead!"

This is the moment I needed someone to intervene. But I live alone, and I'm pretty convincing, so I talk myself into some stupid shit all the time.

I lived off the tap water for a couple of hours before the first twinges of caffeine withdrawal settled in. I popped some ibuprofen and brewed some tea. I staved off the shakes for another couple of hours, and thus decided, "This isn't so hard! I could totally give up Diet Coke! Think of the money I'll save!"

Again. I live alone. And I'm fairly stupid at times. And stubborn.

By Sunday afternoon, I believe I was in full-blown Diet Coke de-tox. But I was determined. Because I'm absurdly competitive, even with only myself. Even when I literally could not peel myself off the couch for a while because my head and body ached so badly.

I think the Betty should open a wing just for recovering Diet Coke-heads.

I did manage to get up this morning although I cracked and had one normal-sized Diet Coke. I did not, however, strangle a child or co-worker as I was afraid I would.

But tomorrow's a new day.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Ring the Bell

Sometimes, you suffer what feels like a soul-crushing defeat.  It feels that every turn of good luck is met with an equally powerful dose of bad luck.

But here's the good news. 

Tomorrow, the sun will rise.  Your kids will smile at you, and you will find yourself smiling back.  Your favorite song will come on the radio, and you'll find yourself humming along.  Maybe you check your winter coat pocket and find a leftover 10 spot.  Or maybe you don't, but the sun's still up and you've still got a chance to turn things around.

And that's when you find out what you truly believe.

I'm sad for our Rangers.  I'm devastated for my long-time, die-hard Ranger faithful friends.  It is little salve to say that it was an incredible match of wills and determination that unfortunately didn't go our way.  But here's what people don't realize: sometimes you are strongest and most dangerous with your back against the wall, and that's when the fighters really step into the ring.

So shake off the bad.  Lace up your gloves.  Wait for the bell.  Come out swinging.

And tomorrow, when you walk out the door, don't forget to check your pockets.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Buyer Beware. It's a $30 Rant.

Take a look.

What might that be?  A clean desk?  No...  A new manicure?  Not so much...

It's a pencil.  That's right.  A pencil.  And before you roll your eyes and click that little red "x" in the corner, understand this... That's a $30.00 pencil.

Oh, you heard me right.  I didn't stutter.  That, my friends, is a $30.00, not-fancy, not-even-mechanical, will-be-devoured-in-5-turns-of-my-jacked-up-pencil-sharpener kind of pencil.

Uh. huh.

Now, I have to confess.  I didn't know that I was buying a $30.00 pencil.  Frankly, I hate pencils.  Detest them.  The writing's faint and reflects the light.  They smudge.  They leave eraser shavings all over my desks and require no less than 23 trips to the pencil sharpener per day.  I abhor pencils.

So, I'm sure that you're positively puzzled as to how I wound up with such an unwanted treasure.  Well, I'll tell you. 

I donated to a charitable cause.  And this was my "thank you".  I found it in an envelope addressed to me.  Without so much as a thank you form letter inside. 

A pencil.  In an envelope.

Now, before I get tens of emails/comments chiding me with phrases like, "It's the thought that counts" or "You should be grateful for even the smallest things" and treat me like some ungrateful wench, understand this:  I love to give.  Love it.  Can't resist it.  I buy cookie dough and gift wrap and coffee from every little kid with a fundraiser pamphlet.  I don't even drink coffee, but I'll buy it.  You're jumping rope for heart?  Tell me how much your mom pledged.  I'll probably double it.  Bowling for Kids?  Knock $50 worth of pins down for me!  You've lost your mind and decided to run 26.2 miles for cancer research?   Better you than me!  Here's my check, Crazy Face!

That's who I am.  A sucker giver.

You are funding educational grants for teachers who never have the funds to do all the things for their students that they can?  I'm in for $30!  And normally, I'd be in for a lot more ,but I bought a crap ton of giftwrap and coffee this year.  For real, you're all getting coffee. for Christmas.  Or Tuesday.  Gift-wrapped coffee.

Understand another thing, however, before you place that trinket in an envelope with a scrap of paper with my name taped to the front (I mean for God's sake, can't you at least take the time to hand write my name?).  I DON'T WANT IT!  In fact, it seems a tad trite and pathetic.  And junky.  It makes me wonder how when our state and district is in an enormous budget crunch, you're still shelling out the bucks to Oriental Trading Company for engraved pencils or coffee mugs. 

Last year, when I donated a bit more, I got a mug.  For the coffee I don't drink.  But at least I can't sharpen away a coffee mug.  For real.

More than just the ridiculous eyeroll that one little pencil brought on, it made me start to think about our entire society, and I became outraged.  That's right.  Pencil = All of Society's Problems.

That's how my Rage Brain works.  Just FYI, I'm like the Incredible Hulk of Illogical Rage. 


Why does our society request expect demand something in return all the time? Why is a simple thank you or a personal note or a phone call not enough? Has real gratitude gone out of fashion entirely?  Or do people just think that if you throw something -- anything, really, no matter how craptastic -- at you, that you will not only continue to give but also somehow be satisfied?  Are they expecting me to whip out my PENCIL at the grocery store to write a check only to have the man behind me inquire in a squeally wondrous voice, "Heavens to Betsy!  Where upon Earth did you find such a marvel of lead and wood?"  And then when I explain that it came from the recipients of a charitable donation, do they expect him to run out and throw some money their way?  No.  He won't.  Mainly because I broke your little thank you gift in the midst of a Hulk-Out.

I fully understand that not every kindness should merit a plaque or medal or t-shirt or even a coffee cup.  It shouldn't.  You shouldn't do something with the expectation of getting a return; feeling good about yourself should be quite sufficient.  But it is nice to be appreciated.  It's really nice.  Just don't patronize me.  Sometimes it's enough just to hear a thank you, receive a hug, or see a picture of what your small kindness created.  Instead of just figuring out a way to spend a little money to say thanks for gathering a ton of money, THINK.  Think about who gave the gift.  Think about who they are as a person.  Know your audience.  Grab someone's heart, and you're sure to get a lifetime of contributions.  Junk up their desk drawers and kitchen cabinets, and all you'll get is an eyeroll and a healthy dose of Rage Brain Hulk-a-Mania.  I guarantee it.

Lest I leave this on a bitter note, I made sure today to not just take pictures of that measly pencil.  I also wanted to share some of the notes and thank-yous that mean the most to me. 

1.  A thank-you note from a co-worker after his adoption shower.  It wasn't just the note; it was the words he chose and they way those words spoke to me.  While we'd worked together for 11 years and become friends, I would never have thought that my presence and support could mean so much.  And when he called me Aunt Deana, I was hooked.  I look at that note, with it's crayon-scrawled 6 year-old signature, every day when I go to work.  I didn't take a picture.  I wish I had now.  It's completely precious.

2.  Home-made certificate.  On plain white paper.  Cheap but clever.  Clever always works.  In case you can't read it, it's a Taco Bell Fire Sauce packet, and it says, "Thanks for all your hard work!  You've really been on FIRE" and "Way to think 'Outside the Bun'".  I'll never throw it away.

For just the cost of a bean burrito, you can make someone's day...

or this one:

3.  I found it in my mailbox at work.  A plain piece of paper with the words "You're doing a great job" penciled in.  No reason.  No signature.  But I found it on a day when I really wasn't believing I was doing a great job.  Even though I recognized the writing right away, it didn't matter.  At all.  Because THAT'S when the thought really counts.

Although in pencil, not in $30 pencil. 

or this:

This picture screams, "My run and your donation are helping to kick Cancer's ass!" 

That's my sort-of sister, Amanda, after finishing her 13.1 mile half-marathon.  It was my pleasure to donate to her cause.  I got a wonderful thank you on my Facebook and even better -- a chance to see her success, in full-on America's Next Top Model jumping fashion.  And her smile.

Or this:

I'll wait while you sop your melted heart up off the floor.
Okay.  Maybe I orchestrated that thank-you photo by making sure I gave a present proclaiming love for me on it.  Or this:

Not really a thank you.  But still.  How cute is that kid?  And how many birthday checks and college fund donations will I make as a result of that video?  That's what I call a preemptive thank you strike.

So go forth.  Be gracious and giving, and when someone gives to you, don't forget to say thanks. 

But not with a pencil.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Reconciling Wrigley for the Rangers

I have always loved baseball. 

Maybe it's the combination of the smells of freshly mown grass and the leather of a glove. Maybe it's the laid-back feel of a warm afternoon game. Maybe it's that the season starts in the spring, a notorious symbol of re-birth and hope. I do love a good notorious symbol, you know. Or maybe it's just the child-like simplicity of having a catch and swinging the bat. Whatever the reason, I loved it.

As a child, my earliest memories are of going to see my mom's league softball team play. I think she played 2nd base and maybe a little shortstop. My dad was their coach. I barely ever paid attention (I couldn't have been more than 5 or 6), but I will never forget the clang of the ball on the bat, the moths hovering around the stadium lights or the taste of a purple sno-cone on my tongue.

As I got older, I would bring home my softball league form and stare at it obsessively until my mom filled out the form. Then she, or my dad, or my brother, and I would go out to the yard to start warming up my arm. Games out on our dusty old field. My coach, Ricci, with a cigarette tucked behind her ear and good ol' Martha Harris strutting up to the plate to knock me in. And Lord, could that girl ever swing the bat.

And when I couldn't play ball, I was watching it on TV. When I was young, my hick-town television got four channels:  ABC, NBC, CBS... and WGN. The Chicago station. Because that makes perfect sense for Clarendon, America. Every summer day, I'd catch a Cubs game and watch Andre Dawson and Shawon Dunston and Greg Maddux and Mark Grace and Ryne Sandberg... oh, Ryne Sandberg, how I loved you. I learned everything I know about 2nd basemen from you.  Turning a double play without getting taken out by the runner. Taking care of your shortstop.  Applying the tag on a steal. I probably should have mentioned you in my 1988 little league MVP speech. Well, if I'd had one. Or if I'd been the MVP. 


Every fall, however, I'd be disappointed. But a Cub fan wears her disappointment like a badge of honor, so I never gave up hope. It's the thing that everyone who is not a Cubs fan detests about Cubs fans. Someday, my team would be in that World Series. Someday.

Even when I moved to a city where there's an actual major league team, I couldn't let the good ol' days go. Sure, I took my first trip to a major league game at the Ballpark, and I even got to see my Cubs up close and personal during inter-league play once. It was wonderful but not nearly so incredible as it was to be 10 years old, cross-legged and too close to the t.v. with my fingers crossed and a prayer for a win upon my lips. And no seventh inning stretch touches a Harry Caray rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame". I loved Harry Caray. There was a hopefulness in the start of each broadcast that you just couldn't shake.

Somewhere along the way, I lost that love for the sport. I didn't hate it necessarily. I went to games. I tuned in when I had time. The postseason just always seemed to take a backseat to my need to finish a 7th grade volleyball season with my spirit intact. Also, the thought of squeezing my eyes shut and whispering a prayer for 9 innings, all the way to Chicago (as an adult because I totally did it as a kid) just felt a little silly. Then, in the summer of 2010, the Rangers started picking up steam and stirring up trouble. And just like that, I fell back in love with baseball.  Lord, I fell hard. It wasn't just that they were winning, and it wasn't simply that they were making such dear friends of mine so incredibly happy. It was that they made it fun again. Every time they made Bullwinkle-style antler hands or put up the claw or hugged each other in the dug-out, it felt real. And genuine. And hopeful.

My Lord, it felt hopeful.  And I do love hopeful.

I tried not to fall for them because I'm supposed to be a Cubs fan.  It felt like cheating. Was I cheating? Or worse? Was I on the... bandwagon?  *shudder*

Every game I went to or run that I cheered, I wondered if ol' Harry was up in Heaven, shaking his great big, beer-soaked noggin at me and wondering how it is that I couldn't name a single Cubs player on the roster but I could name every Ranger. The disapproval staring me down from behind those big black frames was almost too much to bear. I couldn't help it though. They got to me. They lured me in with their enthusiasm, as boundless as their bats and baserunning, and their work ethic. I can't help but wonder how much Harry Caray would love these guys. I think he'd love them quite a bit.

For the past few months, I've been keeping a close eye on the boys. And as the season's intensified, so has my angst. Not just in the last remaining guilt that I hold on to, but also... how do I handle the fact that the team I'm supporting is not only in the World Series but is leading the Series' standing?  I've never been on the winning side of a baseball series in late October. Yet as the games go by, and I catch myself changing, mid-game, into my "lucky shirt" from the hamper, screaming obscenities at Tony LaRussa and Albert Pujols (who cannot hear me in St. Louis, but no matter), whispering a prayer with each at-bat, and running the bases with Elvis and Ian and Wash, I find that I'm closer to that 10 year-old Cubs fan than I've been in a long, long time. She just happens to be in a (possibly dirty) Rangers shirt. And it feels good. And genuine. And right. 

So, now I'm a Rangers fan who still really loves the Cubs. And Ryne Sandberg. Guilt-free.

But that's okay with me because A) They are a team who seems to genuinely like one another and have a hell of a good time playing baseball together.  I adore that.  2) I take comfort in the idea of not only rooting for the Rangers but also against the Cards (a longtime Cubbie rival).  Finally) On Sunday night, Derek Holland even introduced the ghost of Harry Caray to a whole new generation.  I'm sure that Harry did shake his big ol' noggin at that one just before he started laughing.   Then he cracked open a Budweiser.

And this... tell me there's not just a little resemblance.

Or is it just me?  I'm taking it as a blessing.

Go Rangers.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

It's the Small Things

I... Am... Alive. 

I swear.  For the tens of you keeping up with me via the interwebs, take your fingers off the 9.

I'm here.  I am just mother effin' tired.  In 3 days, I'm almost at 40 hours of work.  That makes 2 days left to go.  I left this evening around 6:45 PM just to make sure I saw the sun this week.  It's been a series of work tirelessly for 4 or 5 days straight and then go comatose on the weekends.  It's a go, go, go, go... CRASH/BURN cycle.  And I'm so not the only one in this, so I try to keep my bitching to a minimum.  The fact that people are keeping this pace and then going home to do things like cook dinner for their kids or iron their husbands' shirts flipping astounds me.  I can barely change the cats' water dish.  And I can rationalize them drinking from the toilet. 

Every day, I feel like the pressure intensifies even more.  New kids.  New schedule.  New responsibilities.  Same ol' challenges.  Oh.  Annnddd... a NEW TEST.  When we're still on the hot seat with the last one.  The journey into the Great Unknown has begun.  And, everywhere, there are constant reminders that if we aren't successful, it'll be time to re-apply for... your... own... job.  I was the first teacher in yesterday at 6:45 AM and the last teacher out at 8:45 PM.  Now that's not the norm, but it's also not a rarity.  When I got in my car, I sat in the parking lot and sobbed for 2-3 minutes straight just to have some sort of release. 

Then I pondered taking up drinking full-time.  I bought dinner on the fly and then wound up putting it in the fridge because I was too tired to eat.  I was asleep within an hour.  I am unsure how to keep up this pace.

It's hard to have fun at work in the midst of all the tension.  But, by God, we're trying.  It's important to still find ways to have fun.  That's what I like about my co-workers.  The teachers in "A" Lunch are somehow under the impression that they are better than "B" Lunch, my lunchtime crowd.  As we're all fairly competitive and unwilling to give anyone else any sort of edge, much jaw-jacking (see "talking smack") has ensued.  Yesterday, when they stole all the chocolate from the Half-Price Books gift basket during A-Lunch, I put them all ON NOTICE. 

(This really doesn't mean anything since, unlike Stephen Colbert, I don't even have a NOTICE board, but still... a warning should strike some fear.)

Today, when I went to buy an afternoon snack from the lounge vending machine, I noticed these signs under the glass on the lunch table.  Subtle, yet hilarious.  I took some photos before those heathens see them and surely deface them somehow. 

Hunger Strikes, be damned.

Pseudo Political Testimonials

Straight shootin'

Historical perspective

Psychotic, former Heavyweight boxing champion testimonial

And my personal favorite...
I laughed until I cried.  Such a better batch of tears than yesterday, so I'm thankful for that.  It's the small things you have to treasure, people.  It's the small things.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

One Does Not Love Breathing...

I read this awesome post, by The Bloggess today which let me know that this week is Banned Book Week.  I don't know if that's for sure.  I mean, it's not marked on my calendar or anything, but Jenny doesn't typically steer me wrong.  (Yes, I refer her to as Jenny.  She follows me on Twitter.  Well... me and like 13,000 other people.  It's a minor detail.) 

And it did what all awesome writing does.  It made me think.  And reflect.  And smile.  And feel inspired.

Man, words are totally effing incredible sometimes.

I think I've made it clear that I love books, yes?  I love them here, or there, or anywhere.  So the idea of banning books makes my skin crawl.  Even a book that I hate (although, off-handedly, I can't think of one of those).  Maybe it's because I don't have children to shelter from the cold, cruel, sex-crazed, profanity-laced world.  Or maybe it's because I hope that, even if I did have children, I'd own up to the fact that we all live in a cold, cruel, sex-crazed, profanity-laced world... and then TEACH them how to NAVIGATE it rather than fear it.

The closest I've ever been to a banned book is my elementary library.  And by "elementary library", I mean the school library I used from 1st through 12th grade.  (Don't forget that my first grade classroom and my Senior English classroom were only like 150 yards apart and connected by a couple of breezeways).  But the library was separated into some clearly defined shelving systems.  The end closest to the door and the check-out counter was for the elementary school kids.  Then biographies (which were open to all).  Then, in the middle of the room -- and, yes, I said "room" as in singular -- was the Holy Grail in my eyes.  The Young Adult shelves.  That section was both the metaphorical and literal barrier to grown-up books. 

Well, truthfully, it was the barrier to the reference section, but that just doesn't have the same ring, now does it?

But my flirtations with the Young Adult Shelves doesn't begin with me.  It begins with my brother, the local boundary pusher in my family.  My brother is four years older than me.  He is a voracious reader who imparted both the skill and love for reading to me when I was merely 5.  When he was in the early stages of junior high, he decided that he'd had enough of the elementary section, waltzed over to the YA section, picked up a forbidden book, and plopped it down on Mrs. Stavenhagen's desk. 

She promptly told him to put it back.  And what Mrs. Stave said... you did.

I don't know if there was much of a fight put up at the time.  All I know is that later that evening, my mom was presented with some pen and paper and asked to write a note declaring that she was perfectly okay with my brother checking out books from any and all categories.  In truth, I think it was as much about knocking down a seemingly stupid rule (my brother absolutely detests stupidity) as it was about which book he wanted.  Nevertheless, the next day, my brother crossed the threshhold.  More than anything though, he blazed the path for me.  For that, I will be thankful.

By the time I was in the 4th and 5th grade, Mrs. Stave would simply stand aside and watch me go, knowing full well that my brother's note from so long before served as my note as well.  My goal was to read every book in that library, no matter which shelf it lived upon.  I fell short, of course, but the lessons I learned within those bindings live with me still today.  No other reading has affected me like the reading I did as a pre-teen/teen.

The first book that ever grabbed hold of me was "To Kill a Mockingbird".  I have probably read it 20 times, and there are still moments that I have to close its cover and breathe a deep breath or throw it down in anger or hold it to my heart and weep.  It made my cheeks burn with shame and put the microscope on humanity.  Then it held my eye to the lens.  But it wasn't just the acknowledgment of injustice and prejudice, it taught me about courage.

"I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand.  It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.  You rarely win, but sometimes you do."

It taught me about  love.  It taught me that friendship knows no boundary of age or class or color.  It taught me that growing up is neither graceful or delicate.   And most certainly, it was not easy.

"Neighbors bring food with death and flowers with sickness and little things in between. Boo was our neighbor. He gave us two soap dolls, a broken watch and chain, a pair of good-luck pennies, and our lives. But neighbors give in return. We never put back into the tree what we took out of it: we had given him nothing, and it made me sad."

There it is.  The lump.  In my throat.  Oh, God.  Talk amongst yourselves.

I had probably read this book 5 times before I ever heard that someone wanted to ban it.  And, honestly, I am still unsure why.  Each time I re-read it, that thought, the thought of it perched on the top of a madman's bonfire, makes my stomach ache.

But there were many books that changed me, some controversial, some not.  Yet their importance in shaping who I am, how I view the world, and what I believe is true and necessary has never faded.  The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. (I still cannot re-read this book. I wept for days. I weep still to think of it. This reason alone, I think, is why I will never teach the 8th grade.) Fahrenheit 451... Brave New World... 1984... Animal Farm... Catcher in the Rye... Where the Red Fern Grows... Bridge to Terabithia... The Outsiders... The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn... Charlotte's Web... Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret... The Red Badge of Courage...  The Pigman... Carrie... Flowers in the Attic... Lord of the Flies...

The list could go on forever, and I find myself -- even at the elderly age of 35 -- still adding to this list of important Young Adult literature.  The Hunger Games Trilogy... Speak... The Harry Potter Series... The Book Thief (oh, how I cheered her on.)... Only now, it's the for the Young Adults in my classroom.  And there's no age limit upon my little bookshelf.

So in honor of Banned Book Week, I leave you with an invitation to tell me about your own life-changing books -- controversial or otherwise, YA or otherwise -- for I'm always on the look-out for a good book... and with one last quote from the smartest narrator I've ever known, Scout Finch.

"Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing." -- To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Tim Gunn, Hawaiian Jams, and Amateur Psychology

I am hopelessly addicted to Project Runway.  Hopelessly.

It's quite laughable, really, as my outfit of choice is usually jeans, t-shirt, flip-flops, and a ponytail.  Even Tim Gunn couldn't "make it work".  Still, I enjoy the hell out of it.  And Tim Gunn?  I want him to be my gay Yoda.  I like the bitchiness of Michael Kors, and I love the black t-shirt uniform.  But he cannot measure up to a man in a suit with a red and white gingham button-down shirt.  Ever.

The amateur psychologist in me says that my obsession might all stem from my first-ever failing grade in Home Economics.  Mrs. B, my teacher and StuCo advisor, pushed me to my very limits. Oh, bless her heart.  I do not understand how she dealt with my 15 year-old drama.  I started strong with a blue walrus pillow (which is still in my childhood bedroom, thank you), but the slow coast to Flunksville kicked off with an apron.  Oh, that mother-effin' apron.  Black and white toille with a black edging.  Damn you, edging.  Damn you.  By the time we moved on to a very happenin' set of jams, I was on red-alert nervous breakdown watch.  Seams?  Patterns?  That little wheelie, marking thing?  I have to cut the fabric so that the crazy yellow flowers match up?  POCKETS??   It kind of gives me the cold sweats to think about, and it's been 20 years.  I think I cried myself to sleep for a straight week.

In true fashion, however, my mom pulled out her sewing machine (What?  You have a sewing machine?), gave me a 10 minute tutorial, and TA-DAH, a slightly janky pair of Hawaiian print jams appeared.  No pockets, but I was just happy to survive.

(This is totally my mom, by the way.  Full of ninja-like skills that she has absolutely no interest in pursuing further.  *sigh*)

The fact that I was only slightly more adept at the cooking semester might be the birth place of my addiction to "Top Chef".  And the fact that I've never been within a hundred miles of any border might explain my dreams of competing on the "Amazing Race".  It doesn't seem like a good thing that all of my t.v. favorites just reality versions of all my past-life failures. 

Except "Hoarders".  Which is somehow a creepy flash forward fall-apart.  *shudder*

I have yet to diagnose my inordinate fear of Nina Garcia, however.  Maybe next week's episode.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Spread the Word, Please...

It's been like 3 weeks since I last sat down to write.  It's because my job kicks ass. 

Literally, it's kicking my ass.

The first part of this post is probably going to be sort of whiny and "Holy geez, I'm beyond tired", so if you want to scan ahead to the other way that my job kicks ass, feel free.  I'll even bold and subtitle the part that is at least slightly funny.  Hopefully, funny.  Well... it's funny to me.

For real.  The new schedule (from 11 years on block scheduling -- 4 classes for 80 minutes each + a 45 minute end o' day class -- to 6 classes at 51 minutes each) is killing me.  The pace is unreal.  I feel like I never sit down from 7:30 AM until my conference period at 3:00.  And even then, I don't just sit down, I melt into my chair and proceed to rest my head on my desk for 10 solid minutes.  How did all of my former teachers do this for basically their entire careers?  They were OLD when they were my teachers.

Oh, wait.  Now I'm OLD.  Ahhh... THIS is how you get to be OLD.  No wonder.  I apologize to all my teachers. 

Don't get me wrong.  I love seeing my kids each day now.  I feel like I know them so much better, and they know and remember me (and my expectations) day-to-day.  But daaannnngggg.... there's a lot to do in that day.  Then, between 7th grade volleyball and lesson planning and grading, I have been working 60+ hours each week.  If I was the super-politico type, I'd insert some rhetoric about my paycheck here.  Luckily for you, I'm not.


But in case you think I've fallen out of love with my job, you'd be wrong.  I've known my students for just under a month, but they've already doled out 2 months worth of whacked-out good times.  My theory is: if you teach 12 and 13 year old kids and they don't make you bite the inside of your mouth to keep from laughing on a daily basis... you're not doin' it right.  Mind you, we get LOTS done in my class.  It's just that stuff isn't always very funny.

Case in point:

1.  I have a student.  His name is very different.  When I called roll and asked that students tell me what they'd like to be called (you know... like "Bob" instead of "Robert"), he replied with "Boosie".  Now, I'm no old, unhip white lady like some might suspect.  I do happen to know who Lil Boosie is.  And normally, I'd refuse this request, but I was feelin' sassy this particular day.  I agreed.  It's "Boosie" as long as you're doing your work and staying out of trouble.  He knows when he hears his real name, the show's over.  I do, however, call him "Bootsy" just to eff with him though and let him do the "crazy ol', unhip white lady slow head shake" at me.  It also makes my co-worker laugh because it reminds him of Bootsy Collins and the Parliament Funkadelic.

2.  Today, while learning about appositive phrases, another of my students wanted to write about another rapper, Wiz Khalifa (and I fully admit I did not know this one).  When I asked him to give me some extra info to rename/describe him, the student hesitated.  So, I clarified by saying, "Give me a school-appropriate noun to rename/describe him".  To which he replied, "Wiz Khalifa, a P-O-T-head, is my favorite rapper".  And, yes, he did spell out the P-O-T in "pot head".

Cut to me, biting the inside of my cheek and reminding him that just spelling something out does not, in fact, make it school appropriate. But way to go with the appropriate punctuation of your appositive phrase.  Both of those stories are from the same class.  Tomorrow we're going to talk about how to pick role models.

3.  One of my students announced that her parent is a manager for my all-time favorite store, Target.  I replied with a bewildered face.  When she asked if I was okay, I replied, "This is a miracle.  Seriously.  It's like seeing Jesus's image in my morning waffle."  Her reply?  "You're weird, Naz.  Funny.  But Weird."

4.  In my Pre-AP class, we were working on a lesson about inferencing and developing a theme.  We used some of Norman Rockwell's paintings which are abundant in detail that help tell a story.  In one painting, one of my student's announced that the woman looked "bougie".  To which, 70% of my class went, "uh... what?" while the other 30% nodded their heads furiously.  It made me deliriously happy to hear her describe, accurately I might add, all the text evidence that supported her claim that this woman was uppity.  It also gave me the chance to explain how "bougie" is derived from "bourgeois" and what that means.  It didn't matter.  By the end of class, I overheard some skinny white kid throwing down that "So-and-So has a real bougie attitude".  

5.  Actual conversation:
Student:  Can I draw a picture of a woman giving birth for the vocab word "neonatal"?
Me:  *seven solid seconds of cold staring*
Student:  Because I wasn't sure if it would be school appropriate.
Me:  *seven more seconds of deadpan staring*
Student:  How about I just draw the baby... you know... afterward?
Me:  *seven more seconds of staring.  And a deep sigh.*
Student:  Or just a picture of, like, the cutest baby ever.  No mom.  Anywhere.
Me:  Good idea.

6.  When teaching kids to serve a volleyball, it's important for them to step with their left foot (as most serve with their right hand and this is BASIC SCIENCE, and EVEN I understand BASIC SCIENCE) in order to avoid shoulder strain as well as avoiding looking cray-cray.  I say the phrase, "Step with your left foot" approximately 53 times per practice.  So, today, while the kids worked on serving, things went like so:
Kid:  *serve out of bounds*
Me:  Step with your left foot.
Kid:  *serves into the net*
Me:  Step with your left foot.
Kid:  *serves into the back of someone else's head* and then complains, "My arm hurts.  Can I stop?"
Me:  For the love of all that is good and holy in this world, when will you believe me when I say that you should STEP. WITH. YOUR. LEFT. FOOT?  For real.  Not to brag or anything, but I'm like a genius at this stuff.  After 12 years, I'm practically the Mother Teresa of B-team volleyball serving.  I'm pretty sure there's, someday, going to be a scientific study about how much more awesome you will become when you STEP WITH YOUR LEFT FOOT.
Kid:  *steps with the left foot and serves it over the net, in-bounds, center of the court.*
Me:  *deep sigh*
Kid:  I think you really might be a genius.
Me:  Spread the word, please.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

How You Can Save a Life. And My Sanity.

Last night, on my way home from a super-long day at work, I saw a little kitty cat racing across a busy street.  I won't go into details, but to put it lightly, Little Kitty met a terrible fate, courtesy of two cars that didn't even tap the brakes.  Luckily for me, through the waterfall of tears pouring down my face, I saw a car pull over to scoop said kitty up.  Thank goodness there are still kind and non-hysterically crying people in the world.

In my heart, they went straight to the Animal Emergency Room.  There was some emergency life-saving surgery performed by a brilliant cat surgeon who happened to stop in to leave some fliers for his new pro-bono stray animal surgery foundation.  At worst, said kitty might have to use one of those carts that carry around their hind legs. 

In my head, I know that most of that is not true.  Okay.  Probably none of that is true.  *sigh*

And then I panicked and thought the worst.  I am a kitty owner.  What if that had been my cat?  What would I do?

Not that it was any of my kitties.  Nope.  My kitty cats are fat and lazy and would shit their pants if they were ever even on the front porch (or if cats wore pants).  They hiss a mean game at each other, but in truth, they simply are not cut out for the street life.

See what I'm sayin'?  There's no napping on the street, bitches!

No.  I was worried about my PK.  My Porch Kitty.  I call him Jake.  I don't know why.  It just fits.
"I'm Jake, and I'm not good at sitting still for pictures!"

Several months ago, I was adopted by this kitty and his brother.  Word from one neighbor was that they belonged to someone down the street who just never fed them or let them in the house.  Jackholes.  I took pity (I'm genetically pre-disposed to the need to take in all strays) and began feeding them.   Jake's little brother, Boo, was miraculously adopted (in my heart -- adopted) by a kind stranger who has a catnip farm.  Thus, Jake has become a bachelor... living it up in the shed or the back porch or even the lid of my recycling bin.  He even found a way to survive the long weeks this summer when I was at camp.

Each morning, when I open the screen door, he races around the corner to the front porch.  In the evenings, when my car pulls into the driveway, he is at the door to greet me.

"I love you.  And your Meow Mix."
It might have a little something to do with the Meow Mix I serve up each day, but I prefer to think our friendship runs much deeper. 
Food = easy to photograph

You'll also notice that Jake is super skinny.  Now, I don't have much knowledge of "normal-sized" cats, but he seems a bit on the supermodel-lean scale.  I also worry -- even more intensely after last night's episode -- that I'll come home one day to find a roadside tragedy.  

I cannot take another cat into my home.  A) My cats don't even like each other, let alone other animals and 2) I have FURniture.  Seriously.  I cannot wear black pants ever again.

I also cannot continue to just leave Jake on the front porch.  I mean, I already gave him a name.  I buy him his own food.  I'm attached, and I've been down this road before.  I once had a Porch Kitty named Buster.  He showed up one day, sweet as can be.  I fed him and watered him and even nursed him back from a snake bite on the foreleg with some old dog antibiotics.  Buster was a total badass.  And then, one day, he was gone.  I cried for weeks.  

I can't do that again.

So here's my offer, America.  If you are interested in a really sweet and loving kitty, I know one.  I cannot testify to whether he claws furniture or will live inside or gets along with other animals.  I don't know if he loves kids or will chase your robot vacuum.  But I can tell you, with all confidence, that he is loyal.  He is tough.  He doesn't bawl and squall.  He can make do with just a trash can lid for a bed, and he eats fast and cheap.  I will corral him in a carrier and bring him wherever you are, and I will even share in the cost of vetting and neutering him.  This is how much I like this crazy cat.  All you have to do is give the go-ahead.  I think that good ol' Jake would make a wonderful addition to any household, and I'll even let you change his name.

But might I suggest "Buster"?

Friday, August 26, 2011

The End of an Era

Yesterday, I said good-bye to an old friend. I'd avoided it for a while, pretending that the end wasn't near. But not wanting to let go, while human, is futile. All good things must come to an end.

The Boy Under the Stairs is no more.

That's right. I finally saw the last Harry Potter movie yesterday. I had hoped to wait long enough to find myself in an empty theater, sitting alone so that I could grieve in peace. Alas, 12:55 PM, 8 weeks after release, is still not enough time as I found myself weeping quietly with at least 80 other people.

I'm no idiot. I knew what I was getting myself into. I've read the entire series at least 3 times. I harbored no illusions that things would change.  It didn't matter.  From the opening scenes at Dobby's little hand-dug grave, I was a puddle.  Damn elves.  Sheesh.

I am usually the harshest critic of books becoming movies... as my friend Kit said (after seeing Charlotte's Web in the theater), "It can just never be as clear on a screen as it was, listening to your 3rd grade teacher read it aloud while you laid your head upon your school desk".  I have to admit, however, that while I found the first couple of movies to be somewhat simplistic and surface valued, as the actors matured, directors changed, and the darkness of the storyline intensified, the movies became sensational with the two covering Book 7 being, by far, my favorite.  My interest in the films' progressions mirrored my own fascination with the books and awe at Rowling's skill at weaving together story lines that grew up along with her readers.  Unlike some of the latest young adult literary crazes (that started strong and fell apart in the end), the reader can't feel the deadline on the author's shoulders or the cash cow nipping at her heels.

And that's how these last movies felt.  They just felt... right.  Appropriate.  Timely, even.  But "timely" and "appropriate" are poor excuses for Kleenexes in a darkened theater.

And in response to another blockbuster, young-adult, the end is nigh movie premiere coming to a theater near you soon, I give you one of my new favorite Stephen King quotes.

"Harry Potter is about confronting fears, finding inner strength and doing what is right in the face of adversity. Twilight is about how important it is to have a boyfriend."

— Stephen King

Monday, August 22, 2011

First Day of School: 2011 Edition

Tomorrow is the first day of school.  Again.

You'd think that after 30 of these the newness of it all would wear off.  It hasn't.  And I fully realize what a huge nerd that makes me.  So be it.  I cannot remember a time when I wasn't a huge nerd; it just took next to forever to accept that fact.

"Don't you love New York in the fall? It makes me want to buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly-sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address. On the other hand, this not knowing has its charms."  Name that movie. 

I wish someone would send me a bouquet of newly-sharpened pencils.  I wish I lived in a state that had an actual, visible "fall" season. *sigh*

But the first day is exciting.  As a child, it meant donning my new shoes or grabbing my fancy lunch box (which I would carry once and then eat in the cafeteria for the other 186 days), but as a teacher, it's something different.  It's the beginning of an adventure.  It makes me nostalgic about the past and hopeful for the future.  Anxious but hopeful.

"Remember, Red. Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies."

Bonus points for naming that movie (although quoting a prison movie in regard to school is kind of funny).

  • I hope my alarm(s) go off in the morning.  My alarm(s) cause me great anxiety.  Specifically my knack for turning off my alarm, hence why I have alarm(s) -- plural.
  • I hope I remember my lunch in my brand new lunch box as I rush out the door.  And, yes, I bought myself a brand new lunch box.  It's a hard habit to break.
  • I hope I use my lunch box for all (or at least most) of the next 187 school days.  Sucker cost me $9.00. 
  • I hope I remember to take roll and take it the right way.  The first days are like no other when it comes to taking roll, and someone is bound to screw it up.  Just please, Lord, don't let it be me.
  • I hope I can learn all 120 names in a week or less. 
  • I hope they learn mine in a week or less.
  • I hope that every kid will understand how to work his locker on the first day/week/month.  This will most likely not happen, so I hope I can keep my deep sighs to a minimum when they ask for help for the 900th time.
  • I hope that at least one kid laughs at my corny jokes.
  • I hope that I make at least one kid feel more at ease by the time he leaves my room tomorrow.
  • I hope that I help them learn to plan.
  • I hope that I help them learn to complete.
  • I hope that I help them learn to succeed.
  • I hope to keep my voice calm and my face blank when I am frustrated with a student.
  • I hope that I have the courage to speak up when I am frustrated with a co-worker.
  • I hope that I lead by example. 
  • I hope that I lend a positive atmosphere throughout my school.
  • I hope that my lesson plans are both effective as well as turned in on time.
  • I hope to have my good days outnumber the tough days and for the great days to outnumber the good.
  • I hope I bought enough paper and supplies to last the year.  I didn't.  I never do, no matter how much I buy.
  • I hope I get kids who care and that I can make them care even more.
  • I hope that when I get kids who don't care I can make them care even just a little.
  • I hope that when I feel like giving up, that I cannot go any further, there's someone to talk me off the ledge.
  • I hope for calmer hallways and cooler weather.
  • I hope I can see the top of my desk again sometime before Christmas. 
  • I hope that I am up for all of the challenges that face me this year. 
  • I hope I make the same kind of difference that my own teachers made for me.
  • I hope.

Monday, August 15, 2011

On Emotional Melting Points

Well today was the day. Mark your calendars. Today was my first fall-apart of the school year.

And I do so love me a semi-public fall apart.

Please re-read the above line with an appropriate amount of sarcasm.

All of a sudden, there I was, grumbling to a co-worker about a schedule choice I didn't agree with and my inability to complete a task, and BOOM. My anger and frustration about a hundred things I could not control came spilling out into streams of frustrated tears. And then one of my supervisors walked in.

Because it's not enough to lose my shit in semi-public. I had to lose my shit in semi-public, in a big teary mess with the boss as a bystander. And I say "semi-public" because although we were in my classroom, the door was still open, inviting people (such as my supervisor) to come in/gawk at the door.


In my head, I know that release of emotion is a positive thing; it's healthier than keeping everything bottled up until an eruption point. But, deep down, it still feels so... so... shameful. So out of control.

It's interesting since just yesterday, my best friend called me, exhausted and nearingthe edge of her controlled grip on sanity, to ask for help. Help. Something big? Hide a body? Launder some money? Scoop poop from the yard? Install a new carburetor? Ummm.... No, no, no, and hell-to-the-no. She needed me to play with her 2 and a half year old son, so she could get some much-needed sleep (since she also has a 12 week-old baby girl).

Yep. That's it. Babysitting a child that I absolutely adore. And then she resisted going to bed, instead putting laundry in and folding clothes until I reminded her that,"Hey. You should be NAPPING". And she looked at me and asked me, "Why is this so hard? To ask for help?".

I answered her as simply as I knew how. "Because we were raised to just 'handle it'. And all of our lives, we did."

Her reply? "But we didn't handle it well."

And this is why asking for help and finding new ways to de-stress are top priorities for me this year.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

One is Silver and the Other Gold

I've waited for a few days to write this post.  (In truth, it will probably turn out to be a series of posts.  A lifetime love is hard to capture in one entry.) 

Remember, I needed a bit of time to get back on the "normal" side of the Nostalgia Line?  Well, tonight I spent one last evening with several of my wonderfully sweet and dedicated summer staff.  The twinge to float down Amnesia Lane was there, but it did not leave me in a tearful mess on the drive home.  No tears.  That's the green-light for thinking about the past without calling up all of my friends, blubbering the words, "Remember when...?  Waaahhhh..."  No tears = safe zone.

At the end of the summer, I couldn't help but start to think about the past and how my life in camping has come full-circle.  How 25 years ago, I was changed without even knowing it.  And I'd catch myself, looking at my counselors and campers, wondering where this journey would take them in a quarter of a century.

When I was 10, I spent my first summer at Camp Cibola, a Girl Scout camp only about 5 miles from my house.  I can clearly remember asking my parents if I could go, worried that they'd see the price and pass out.  But they didn't, and over the next 3 summers, my dad made deals to help with the mowing and maintenance of camp and my mom -- a cosmetology student at the local community college -- sold hundreds of boxes of cookies to help defray the cost of a week or two at camp.  Literally, one summer, I am fairly certain the CJC Bulldog and Lady Bulldog basketball teams paid my way in mountains of Thin Mints.  It slowed them on the court a bit, but their cookie addictions helped change and shape my life.

My camp was forced to close when I was 14 due to financial constraints, and my friends and I were sad.  I didn't realize at the time what it was that we were really losing.  To the naked eye, it's just a few acres with some cabins and a pool, but for me, I realize now, it was home. A beginning, a spark.  Smells, songs, tastes, sounds... little snippets of the past catch me in the strangest of times and will flash me back 268 miles and 25 years.  It's the only kind of time travel I believe in.

Here is Camp Cibola for me:
  • The smell of the Arts and Crafts building -- old stone and clay and tempra paint.
  • Archery with Ernie the Archery Dude.
  • My achievement beads -- specifically the crimson beads for bullseyes at Archery
  • the redwood deck outside the dining hall
  • mail call -- to this day, I still have yet to receive a letter from my mom while at camp.
  • the Canteen
  • trying to figure out all of the counselor's "real" names.  I'm still disappointed that B.G.'s real name was "Lanetta".  And "Froggy" will always be "Froggy".  Never Tracy.
  • sleeping in the covered wagons with the flaps raised.
  • sleeping in the covered wagon at the end of camp after the canvases were taken down
  • stealing plums from the Chief Crazy Horse's (the camp director's) trailer while we were supposed to be typing the camp newspaper.  It's funny now that she never stopped replacing them.
  • the mimeograph machine in the A&C building, cranking out copies of said newspaper.
  • red, yellow, green swim caps.  I'll never forget the day I earned my green cap and went off the diving board.  I learned how to both swim and dive at camp, skills I will always owe to Momma Duke's fierce determination to get me to "put your dang face in the water, Nazworth!"
  • the cinnamon and nutmeg smell of sweet potato muffins from the kitchen and peanut butter and honey on my pancakes.
  • Three Brownie Bites and a Prune-a-Day.  Le sigh.
  • The Buffalo Song
  • Sleep-overs and star-gazing in the valley meadow.  And the smell of freshly mown grass.
  • The cross-tie "bridge" on the forest trail.
  • Fruit-flavored snipe hunts armed only with my pillowcase and a broken flashlight.  I still don't know how the counselors got that snipe smell to permeate our adventures.  My only guess is sno-cone syrup.  Or Kool-Aid packets.  I was terrified and thrilled all at once. 
  •  skits and songs at the ampitheatre.
  • red sashes on the color guard at flag ceremony and complete silence at flag before singing Taps.
  • Kelly, the lifeguard, making friendship bracelets at the pool every day.  She held them in place with a band-aid, and she had a weird tan line where the band-aid was every day.  Now, I realize that maybe it wasn't the best idea for her to be crafting while guarding, but back then, she was just plain cool.
  • platform tents
  • the god-awful smell of the latrines and the intense heat and humidity of the showerhouse.
  • Ivory soap in panty hose hanging from the trough sink.
  • one-match fires
  • chicken pot pie and macaroni and cheese cooked over the campfire.
  • Greens and whites, knee socks and hats.
  • canoeing across Lake Greenbelt with the staff when I was a P.A.T.  Then into town for Blizzards and Chinese Fire Drills on Main Street.
  • Christel, Sarah, Erin, and Cara -- my camp buddies.
  • Being severely homesick the first night only to realize that being homesick was a drag.
  • aluminum foil boats with candles lighting the pool.
  • the first s'more of the summer
  • the last song of the summer... "mmm-hmmm... I want to linger..."
About 12 years ago, I took another of my camp friends (from my 2nd camp), Courtney, to see my old camp.  Even though it'd been closed and the land sold, no one developed it.  We hopped the fence, and after being closed for a decade, it was like looking at a skeleton of someone I loved.  The structures were still there, but the beauty, the spirit, the essence... had died long before.  They now only existed in some film I never took the time to develop and the memories, so clear in my heart.  I thought for a moment that I would simply sit down and fall apart.  But I didn't.  I walked her all over that camp, risking snakes in the grass and a nice trespassing charge, just to paint a picture of the place I loved so dearly if only for a short time.  I knew that she was one of the only people who would understand this need to say good-bye.  In our 16 year friendship, I'd have to say that afternoon was one of my favorite moments; it was the melding of my old camp life and my new camp life. 

"Make new friends... but keep the old... One is silver and the other gold."

Saturday, August 6, 2011

On the Dangers of Nostalgia

Nostalgia is always a tricky thing for me. It's a fine line between visiting the past through a couple of fond memories and wallowing on your couch, scrapbook in hand, wishing for days and moments and people who are long gone.

I came home tonight from this summer's camp staff banquet, feeling especially nostalgic. I thought about writing a post about my first camp counseling experience from so long ago, but I am fully aware of the line tonight. And with just enough vodka in the freezer to free up both my tears and my dialing finger, I'm going to pass. Vodka and scrapbooks are a recipe for a sniveling disaster.

So maybe tomorrow. But if you get a phonecall in the middle of the night, don't judge. It's just the scrapbook talking.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


In case you don't live in Texas, or in case you live here but are a hermit, we're having a heat wave.

And it IS a heat wave. And it IS bad.

And if you didn't know it's bad, you should check out my Facebook wall. There are literally dozens and dozens of posts referring to the unholy temperatures. Not to mention the twenty -- I repeat, TWENTY -- pictures of people's car thermostats as visual proof of Mother Nature's Reign of Terror. (That's what I'd name this heat wave if I were a meteorologist here in the Dee Eff Dub because they all name serious, or allegedly serious, weather systems).

Anyway, here's my thought.

Stop it. Seriously. Stop it, Joe Public. Is there nothing more interesting to talk about than the heat? And what are you hoping to accomplish by asking me questions like, "Can you believe this heat?"

Really. What am I supposed to say to that?

Of course I can believe it. I HAVE SKIN DON'T I? Skin that's now melted onto my black leather carseats. Those were a genius idea, by the way.

The passive-aggressive side of me wants to just sit on my car and take pictures of the temperature every hour until others are as annoyed as I. But I won't. Because today, after 10 minutes of back to school shopping, I gave up and found myself writing a post on my wall about the heat. That's when I realized that it might not be people's fault. The heat has literally zapped them of all neurological coherence.

Someone asked me today how we coped at camp all summer. Well, it's like a no-hitter in baseball -- you just don't effing talk about it. Sure it was hot, but when you start assigning actual numbers to it, it worsens by 1000%. I used to work at a camp with no air conditioning. Some of my friends are currently volunteering there now, as I write, during Mother Nature's Reign of Terror. Can you imagine? I hope like Hell they're staying off of Facebook. Talk about irrational rage; there's nothing like being the one to burst the temperature no-talk bubble out there.

So here's my pledge. I will not entertain any more discussions about your disbelief of the heat. I will continue to refuse to post pictures of my car's thermostat. And I will still continue to be friends with all of my heat-zapped friends. No matter how crazy Mother Nature's hold over you may be.

Monday, July 25, 2011

For Karen...

This is a speech I wrote to celebrate a co-worker's 20th summer at camp.  I don't know many people that can do any job for 20 years, let alone a job that involves 110 degree heat, silly songs, and crying children.  But she has, and we threw her a great surprise party.  It was my honor to try to capture how much she means to our campers as well as our staff...

20 years
7300 days
175,200 hours
10,512,000 minutes

For a woman who, as a math teacher, has dedicated her life to numbers and equations, this is the breakdown of a lifetime achievement.

But you know me, Karen Demore. I don’t work in numbers and equations. And, at heart, neither do you really because the most important moments cannot be measured or weighed. They can be gone in the blink of an eye or stretch across decades. They are beyond price and heavy in value.

Most people can’t, or won’t, dedicate themselves to a job that does not produce immediate results. What would our world be without our immediate results? Yet you have dedicated yourself in not one, but two jobs – teaching and camping -- where the depth of your work and the reach of your heart may never be known. There is always hope, of course, that the long talks and lessons delivered will change the course of a child’s life somewhere down the road, but for the most part those changes are never known. Whether coming through the door of your classroom or the gates of this camp, children come in, stay a while, share successes, and maybe even a few heartbreaks. But inevitably, they leave, and you are never quite sure of the impact you have left upon them. It takes a patient person to do this, but you remind us always in your own words, “I’ll wait.” And wait you have.

20 years
7300 days
175,200 hours
10,512,000 minutes

That’s a lot of waiting, Momma. There’s just no immediacy in those kinds of numbers. In 20 years, you’ve seen the arrival of 4 different U.S. Presidents. You’ve seen buildings crumble and governments fall just as you’ve seen entire cities rebuilt. In the last 20 years, you’ve gone from having never heard of the internet to having your very own blog. You’ve moved from a pay phone out front to a cell phone in your pocket and from delivering camper mail to delivering camper e-mail. Twenty years ago, your love for Camp Carter was born, even before ¾ of this year’s summer staff was born. But like I said, it is never the major events that mean the most. It’s never the major events that change paths.

How many of you have known Karen for 20 years? Stand up, and remain standing. How many of you were campers here who grew up with Momma’s voice ringing through the dining hall or flag? Stand up and remain standing. If Momma has ever tied your rag or presided over your leathers or raggers ceremony, stand up and remain standing. If Momma has ever talked you through a problem or some homesickness or said a prayer for you when asked, stand up and remain standing. If she’s ever given you a high five or a hug or a smile when you thought no one else noticed, stand up and remain standing. If she’s ever told you to “stop smiling”, “quit having fun”, or that you should “stop growing”, stand up and remain standing. If you’ve taken “The Hike That’s Not For Wimps,” stand up and remain standing. If you’ve ever won Momma’s clean cabin award, stand up and remain standing.

10,512,000 minutes
175,200 hours
7300 days
20 years

Look around. These are the lives you have touched. The paths you have helped create. The moments that you share. They are beyond price and heavy in value because the human heart doesn’t calculate such things. So the numbers are nice; they help us to understand the time and commitment you’ve given to all of us, but I have one more math problem for you. Did you know that the human heart beats 42,075,904 times per year? Multiply that by 20.

Wait, don’t worry… the English teacher has done the math already, Ms. Demore.

It’s 841,518,080 beats.

And I can say, with confidence, that with each one, your heart has beat for the Lord, for your family, for your friends and students, and for each and every one of us and this camp.

And for that, you get a standing ovation.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Book Snobs Beware

I love Stephen King.

There, I said it. Out loud and proud. I read his books all through junior high and high school, not only because I enjoyed the secret thrill of being scared shitless, but also because I loved the way he crafted his words and stories. I spent years in college, as an English minor, denying this fact. Because as an English student, you're supposed to be "scholarly" and into "real literature".


When did "literature" become restricted to things that were boring and depressing and stale?

As a person who dabbles in writing (and I do just dabble), I was intrigued when a friend recommended King's non-fiction book "On Writing". It is simply magnificent, the straightforward honesty and ethic the man uses. It made me want to go back and re-read all of his classic stories. You know, the ones that made me stay up all night, first because the man knows how to keep the pages turning, and second because I was too dang scared to turn off the light.

But when I took a visit to Half-Price Books, I realized that there was simply no time to go back. I had serious catching up to do.

This week, I read a book of short stories so fascinating that I didn't mind beginning my nightly reads until I'd finally made my way to bed well after 1AM. And while I was mildly terrified at his sinister sentences, I was also fascinated at his construction. The man's mind must never stop.

And for those who doubt me, who snicker or roll their eyes at my "literary" choices, I offer Exhibit A, "Shawshank Redemption" which plays on my tv as I write, or "Stand By Me", one of my favorite coming-of-age stories ever. Both were products of that ever-flowing mind.

And a good story, no matter who tells it, makes me deliriously happy.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Prognosis: Good.

Sometimes there is nothing better than to sit with some of the people you love the most and know you best, have a drink margarita(s), eat good food, and laugh until you can't laugh anymore.

Doctors should prescribe such events. "Take five friends and two cups of tequila, and call me at your next breakdown."

Friday, July 8, 2011

One Tough Cookie. Plus One.

Remember my friend, Heather?  The totally tough cookie who, last summer, took on the back surgery from Hell.  I thought then that I'd never see her be more brave.

Wrong again.

This summer, Heather did what she swore she'd always do.  She became a mom.  In the 16 years I've known her, I'd heard her say countless times, "One day, I'm going to adopt a child".  At first it was, "When I'm 30."  Then it became... "When I'm 32... When I'm 33... When I'm 35."  And so on and so forth.

It's not really that we ever doubted her.  When Heather sets her mind to something, there's no turning back.  Many a misbehaving camper or student can verify this fact.  It was just a matter of when she'd finally set her mind.

Then, after she was healed from her backtastrophe, one night she mentioned, "I'm taking some foster care classes.  I'm ready to be a mom."  Right there, as casually as some people order a latte.  And we all caught one another's eye, gave a little smile, and made the preparations to increase our tribe by one more.  Her mind was set.

First there were visits and respite opportunities for some kids in the foster system.  And she fell a little in love.  There were more visits, and she fell a little more in love.  But these kids weren't going to be her kid.  Then there came a photo.  A little black and white copy of an angelic 4 year old face.  By the time she showed us his picture, it had been folded and unfolded and re-folded so often, I thought it would fall apart in my hands. 

This is how I knew that my dear friend was ready to be a mom.

It's been about six weeks since we hustled through her adoption shower so she could go pick him up that very night.  Six weeks since he ran into her arms, ready to climb into her car and just "Go HOME!".  I've met him 3 times, and each time I am amazed.  Not just at how adorable he is (although he's so very adorable).  Not just at how funny he is (and he is quite funny).  Not just at how energetic he is (and, my Lord, he could power the entire city of Fort Worth with that energy).  Not even that she's doing this on her own (because there's very little in this world that Heather can't handle).  But that my friend... my funny, sarcastic, hard-rock loving, swear like a mother-effin' sailor, bad-ass friend... is, in fact, somebody's mom.

In my heart, I knew that this was how it would go, but in my head, I could just never really picture it.  Heather.  With a car seat.  Listening to Radio Disney.  Installing a potty seat.  Planning menus.  But she is.

So. Effing. Weird. Dude.

We had lunch today, just the two of us.  It was nice, and it was necessary.  Day care is important not just for her son but also for her sanity.  We talked for a long time about the struggles she faces daily.  Not just the regular ol' 4 year old struggles, but those that she inherited from the a-holes who had him before.  Not just the cleaning up of the normal hard-playing bumps and bruises but also the scars and the worries and the fears that he carries inside.  Both those that she knows of and those which no one knows.  Not just the fact that she has a child but also the fact that she woke up one day as a single girl who answers to no one and the next day, another human was living in her house.  A human that gets up early, likes chicken nuggets, and does not have an "off" switch. 

There's simply no class to prepare you for that kind of culture shock.

And my dear, funny, sarcastic friend takes each moment, mostly all on her own, and lives it.  When it's a struggle, she reminds herself that "He is four.  We've known each other six weeks.  This will pass."  And then he smiles at her, that angelic 4 year old smile that made her unfold and re-fold that picture a thousand times, and she finds her breath for the next obstacle.

This is how I knew that my dear friend was already a great mom.  A totally bad ass mom who is changing a life day by day.  And there's no class to teach you that either.

I'm so proud of you, friend.  So un-flipping-believably proud of you.