Friday, March 31, 2017

31/31: Target Touching #sol17

Thanks to the Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting the #sol17 writing challenge!
This afternoon, over a giant burrito bowl from Qdoba, I told my husband that I needed to go to Target "just to touch things." 

I know that sounds really weird. But this week has been stressful. And sometimes, I like to wander the aisles of Target and browse. I don't actually buy anything. I just look, pick something interesting up, and put it back. It's oddly soothing. 

I think Scott ultimately agreed to let me go Target Touching because he saw my eye twitching as I shoved forkfuls of chicken and black beans into my mouth. He knew it was in his best interests.

So we went to The Land of the Red Bullseye (pretty sure that, according to their business model, the bullseye is my credit card). We started in the Dollar Spot (or, as I like to call it, the Steal Your Dollar Spot). I picked up a pair of socks with a cross-eyed bunny on it. Scott handed me a fuzzy headband with bunny ears, which I immediately donned. As we laughed, I felt a thread loosen in the snarled yarn ball of stress that I was carrying in between my shoulder blades.

We moved on to the clothing section. I touched some very soft pajama pants. Scott found some swim trunks that were covered, inexplicably, with cats.  We debated the pros and cons of him wearing them in public (there weren't many pros), and just the thought of him showing off his cat-clad legs at the swimming pool was enough to unravel a little more of my balled-up anxiety. 

We strolled over to the Easter section, hand in hand, and engaged in a rousing debate about which Easter basket best suited each of us. Scott picked a fuzzy bunny basket for me, and I handed him a basket in the shape of a Despicable Me minion. We analyzed the different types of Cadbury eggs and the relative merits of each (original is perfection, in my opinion, but he feels that caramel has its place). Scott plied me with many fuzzy stuffed bunnies, chicks and lambs because he knows I adore stuffed animals and soft things. I hugged each in turn. He was starting to see the power of Target Touching.  

As we made a left to head back towards the front of the store, I leaned into my husband and rested my head on his shoulder. This movement was much easier than it would have been a mere hour ago, because the Target Touching had worked. The ball of stress that had been wedged between my shoulders had been reduced to an inconsequential pile of untangled strands. 

But it wasn't just the act of window shopping that had helped me feel a little more balanced. Target Touching is way better when you have a partner. And lucky for me, I happen to be married to a guy who is totally okay with indulging my weird yet fun attempts at relieving stress.  

Thursday, March 30, 2017

30/31: Happiness is a Good Book (Club) #sol17

Thanks to the Two Writing Teachers for hosting the #sol17 writing challenge! 

I walked down the sidewalk with a purpose. After all, I was already technically late. 

I zoomed past the frozen yogurt shop with its lime green chairs and array of flavors. Past the cute clothing boutique with floral dresses that practically beckoned me. Finally, I stopped, ducking into the doorway of a dimly-lit wine bar.

In the corner, I spied Liz and Dawn.  I slid into the booth, glad to be somewhere I knew I would leave feeling energized, not drained. And then, we were three.

The door opened, and Gail bustled in, sleeping baby in tow. And then, we were four.  The few. The proud. The faithful book club attendees. 

The dark wood of the table contrasted with the shiny pages of the menu that the server plunked down in front of me. I flipped and pondered. What appetizer would best complement the heavy conversation that was sure to accompany the dark Southern Lit novel we had read this month (Joe by Larry Brown)? Would the server be able to recommend a wine that matched the preferences of the protagonist in the book, one with a bouquet of tobacco and banana moon pies that had a gritty finish? 

I eyed him. The perfunctory way with which he took our orders made me decide not to risk the joke. 

With the matter of food and libations taken care of, we leaned forward on our elbows and began to chat. Our conversation started like it always did: casual talk. We vented, we shared, we sympathized. 

Our food arrived. We dug in, and our discussion turned towards the book. One thing I love about our book club is that we really do talk about the book, which I've learned is a rarity in some circles. Gail's eyes flashed as she described her anger at the book's ending. Dawn hypothesized about a character's motivation, and Liz shared her insights that, as usual, made me think deeper about the story. Our conversation vacillated from heavy analysis to light observations, from thoughtful wonderings to a hilarious conversation about the actor who best represented the protagonist in our mind's eyes (in case you were wondering, we decided on a combination between Dog the Bounty Hunter and Mickey Rooney post-face lift). 

Sometimes, I just listened, happy to soak in the thoughtful commentary of my friends and relish the simple pleasure of a bite to eat and a book to discuss. 

As with anything that's fun, time flew, and before I knew it, I had to leave. I waved goodbye to my friends and stepped back out onto the sidewalk and walked past the adorable boutique, past the frozen yogurt shop and to my car. As I started the engine, I realized that I was already looking forward to next month's meeting.  

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

29/31: The Beauty of Nothing #sol17

Thanks to the Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting the #sol17 writing challenge!

I lie face up, eyes closed. My hands, fingers splayed, rest by my sides. I breathe. The yoga mat I'm on is an island, one that refuses to play host to worries or stress. 

The light changes as the instructor passes by, casting a brief shadow as she moves slowly past me. I hear a gentle shushing sound, and suddenly, a fine mist surrounds me. Tiny droplets rain across my face, and I am enveloped with the soothing scent of lavender and mint. 

"Don't think about everything you have to do once you leave here."

The instructor's voice begins to blend with the slowing thumps of my heartbeat that echo in my head as I fade into the sort of beautiful nothingness that is so rare for me these days. The song trickling through the speakers in the room crescendos in time with the rise and fall of my chest. Everything is rhythmic; everything is in sync. 

I feel my muscles relax, my tendons like shoelaces that are loosened on a tied-too-tightly pair of shoes.  I feel my eyelids stop fluttering. I feel the room melt away as the lines of reality blur. I feel the simple luxury of the absence of feeling, the freedom to truly think about nothing.   

"Start to return. Become present again." 

I slowly open my eyes. The late afternoon sun seems amplified, brighter than normal. I feel the strange sort of unease that comes with returning to normalcy, the same feeling I get when I arrive home after a long trip away. This is how things should be, but I'm not quite ready to be here yet.

The transition is abrupt. I hear the traffic rushing by outside. The clock on the wall next to me admonishes me with its hands that are resting on the 6 and the 12. My mind suddenly feels like the Dursleys' house in the first Harry Potter book when all of the letters come flooding in, despite desperate attempts to keep them out.

I'm not quite ready to be here yet. I close my eyes again. I breathe. I put my brain on silent. Because right now, I want to stay on my island of escape for just a moment longer. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

28/31: Conquering the Sweet Potato #sol17

Thanks to the Two Writing Teachers for hosting the #sol17 writing challenge! 
Last night, I decided to try something new for dinner. 

I know. This is dangerous, especially on a Monday. Nobody wants to cook something worthy of a spot on Worst Cooks in America on the Worst Day of the Week. Even worse, if you're anything like me, a ruined dinner means a hard left into hangry territory. Trust me (and my poor husband). No one wants this. 

But I'm also easily bored, especially when it comes to food, necessitating some level of variety in my diet. So that's why I was hunkered over my island yesterday evening, desperately trying to make sweet potato "rice" for a Mexican-inspired dish. I had spotted the recipe on one of my favorite food blogs. The blogger, with all of her culinary finesse, made the creation of the sweet potato rice look simple. Just grab your spiralizer (a device that shreds vegetables into an approximation of noodles), rotate the sweet potato until it transforms into ribbon-like curls, then chop up said spirals into rice-sized bits. As Ina Garten would say, "How easy is that?"

Spoiler alert: it was not that easy, Ina. 

Like most things, at first it was. Vibrant orange curls came out of my spiralizer like pencil shavings from a particularly aggressive sharpener. But quickly, my potato resembled a very fat pencil. Which, if you know anything about sharpening Ticonderogas, you know that they don't produce many shavings past a certain point, no matter how hard you try. 

I began to feel the first inklings of frustration, but I kept my cool, as if I was on an episode of Cutthroat Kitchen and trying to recover from a grievous cooking faux pas. I tried different techniques. I pressed harder, trying to force the sweet potato to bend to my will. It resisted all attempts at transfiguration. I put the obstinate spud down on my island. Great. What am I going to do now? 

Thankfully, Scott saw me struggling and suggested trying my food processor. Oh yeah, I thought. I own one of those. I cubed the potato and threw it in the processor. A few quick pulses later, I had sweet potato rice. "Good call," I told my husband, admiring my orange confetti.

From there, it was a matter of throwing the rice in a hot pan, seasoning it liberally with my favorite garlic-jalapeno seasoning and stirring in the rest of the accoutrements: black beans, pico de gallo, cilantro and some cubed chicken. Add a dollop of sour cream, and dinner was served.

And it was pretty good, if I do say so myself. It was the kind of dinner that makes you look forward to having your leftovers for lunch. High praise in my book. 

So all's well that ends well. Maybe I wouldn't make it past the first round of Chopped with my culinary prowess, but, with a little help of my practical sous chef, at least I can try something new on a Monday and survive to tell the tale. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

27/31: Ms. K, I Have a Book For You #sol17

Thanks to the Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting the #sol17 writing challenge! 
"Ms. K? I have a book for you." 

I stood in the hallway, next to the math classroom doorway. I must admit, my mood was rather sour. After all, the laundry list of Reasons Why Today Sucks was long:
  • It's Monday
  • It's the first day back after spring break
  • It's raining
  • The hallway smells like wet middle schoolers (which sort of smells like wet dog...just with more Axe)
So I had my reasons. But then Jessica told me that she had a book for me. 

If you're a teacher, I hope you have a Jessica in your classroom. She's the kind of kid who's impossibly cool for a seventh grader. She's witty, sardonic, whip-smart and really, really nice to boot.

 And she reads. Oh man, this girl reads. We swap books like baseball cards, and more than once I have found myself thinking as I turn the pages of yet another novel, Jessica would love this book. We like our reading material sad and gritty. A good book to us is one that causes an existential crisis with every sentence. A little morbid, but hey. Books should make you feel something, in our opinion.

So when I stood in the hallway this morning, feeling every bit of the weight of the Monday right after spring break on my shoulders, hearing "Ms. K? I have a book for you" was exactly what I needed.

And just like that, Monday didn't seem so bad. Sure, the hallway still smelled. The rain still speckled the windows of my classroom. But at least I had a good book to look forward to, thanks to one of my wonderful students. 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

26/31: Writing is Hard #sol17

Thanks to the Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting the #sol17 writing challenge! 

Today, while working on the third round of revisions for an article with my wonderful co-author Peter Anderson, I was reminded of something that I knew to be true. 

Writing is hard.

It's reading what you wrote and hating it...and then reading it again a few hours later and thinking, "Hey, this isn't half-bad." 

It's a delicate tightrope walk, one that necessitates the balance of thinking about your next step...but not too much, lest you waver in the same spot for much too long and come crashing down to the ground. 

It's reading criticism after criticism and outwardly cursing...while inwardly cringing, because you know that the feedback is valid and that you do have more work to do. 

It's two-and-a-half hours cemented to the same spot, working and reworking one sentence until it's perfect...only to change it again a week later because every idea surrounding it is different and your pièce de résistance no longer fits. 

It's knowing when to turn off your inner editor and just write...and when to go over your words with a fine-toothed comb, searching for the tiniest of imperfections to smooth over. 

It's the satisfaction of writing the final sentence and declaring yourself finished...while still knowing that writing is never really finished. 

Writing is hard. 

But if I gain nothing else from this uniquely frustrating and rewarding experience, I will walk away with empathy for anyone else who has ever tried to write something worth reading. In fact, I guarantee that the next time one of my writers tells me how hard writing can be, I will look them dead in the eye and say, with conviction,"Let me tell you. I know."

Saturday, March 25, 2017

25/31: Baby Showers & New Beginnings #sol17

Thanks to the Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting the #sol17 writing challenge! 
The baby shower was over. We had admired Emily's belly, impressed at its girth and her stories of strangers' propensity to stare at it as if she was unaware of its dramatic appearance. The gifts had been opened, revealing numerous necessities, including a countless amount of adorable onesies (my contribution was a flamingo-themed set, because who wouldn't want their twin girls to look like flamingoes?). 

The baby shower was over. My brother, dad and I had assembled the dual stroller, which wasn't as hard as the complicated instructions made it out to be--just a few clicks and snaps, and we had a baby transportation device. We had all eaten copious amounts of Chick-Fil-A chicken nuggets, hummus, baby carrots (healthy!) and the carrot cake I had made last night (uh...not healthy). 

The baby shower was over. We had played baby-themed games, one of which turned out to be educational. Who knew that a baby pigeon was called a squab? (Apparently, my dad.) We had sat and listened as Nick and Emily revealed the names of their babies, both of them with tears in their eyes, and felt happy that they had chosen to share their decision with us.  

The baby shower was over. So we loaded up the newly-assembled stroller with the gifts, remarking that soon Nick and Emily would be strapping in two tiny babies. My mom tied the two pink balloons that had served as decorations to the handle. My brother began to wheel the stroller back up to the apartment he and Emily were staying in temporarily while waiting to move into their new house. I followed behind him.

As I watched him head up the hill leading to the apartment, the balloons bobbing merrily above him in the soft Georgia breeze, I marveled at how funny this scene would have appeared to me just a few short years ago: my tough brother, pushing a stroller with cutesy pink balloons? Never in a million years! 

But today, I was struck at how right it all looked. He looked content and completely natural as he pushed, easing over the speed bumps and talking about the smooth ride the wheels would give his daughters. He looked happier than I had ever seen him. 

The baby shower was over. But very soon, something new would begin. A family would double in size. Two people would become parents. Two beautiful little girls would be born. Everything would change. 

But in this moment, as I watched my brother with a stroller, I realized that this change was exactly what he wanted. What they wanted. He was right where he had chosen to be. 

And if the way he pushed that stroller is any indication, he's going to be the best dad. 

Friday, March 24, 2017

24/31: A Diaper Cake is Born #sol17

Thanks to the Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting the #sol17 writing challenge! 
When Becca, my sister, first told me that we were going to make a diaper cake for my sister-in-law's baby shower, several thoughts ran through my head.

What the hell's a diaper cake? Is it edible? Does this involve some sort of disgusting chocolate-posing-as-poop sorcery? Why are we calling attention to what probably tops the "Worst Part of Having Kids" list? 

However, I soon learned that a diaper cake is literally a cake made out of diapers. I know very little about child-rearing, but I do know that babies are excellent at eliminating, so since Emily (my sister-in-law) is having twin girls, it made sense to buy her a crap-ton (pun intended) of diapers. 

In lieu of handing a loved one a 128-count box of Pampers at a baby shower, some bored  creative person came up with the concept of a diaper cake. Since the image we were working off of had been pinned on Pinterest approximately a bazillion times, I was confident that Becca's decision to make one of our own was a good one. It was what one does for a baby shower, apparently. 

So, this afternoon found me handling way more diapers than I ever planned to touch. To create a diaper cake, basically, you take a Pamper, place it on a flat surface, roll it up until it resembles a little diaper taquito, and secure it with a rubber band. You repeat this tedious process until you have hands that smell like baby powder and enough rolled diapers to squish together to create a cake tier. Rinse and repeat until you have three "layers." Voila...a diaper cake is born. With the two of us working together, our cake came together in less time than it would take for me to figure out how to put a diaper on a real baby. 

While I got to work on the (edible) carrot cake that I was baking for the shower, my sister fancied up our confection with some pink ribbons and a few well-placed bows. On the top of our cake, she added the finishing touch: a pink rubber duckie. 

"What do you think?" she said. 

I looked up from my mixing bowl and assessed the situation. On one hand, it's a cake made of diapers. On the other hand, it's a cake made of diapers. It was practical and just a little bit silly. Even me, who usually scoffs at things that only exist for the sake of being cute, couldn't help but smile.

"It's perfect." 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

23/31: Eating Costco Hot Dogs with my Dad #sol17

Thanks to the Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting the #sol17 writing challenge! 
My dad handed me a foil-wrapped object, its silver sides glinting in the fluorescent light as I took it from his hand. It was still warm. 

I hadn't really asked him to buy me a hot dog at Costco, but at this point in our relationship, it's sort of a foregone conclusion. 

You see, my dad is the type of man who appreciates a good deal, especially when it comes to food. All you can eat buffets, two-for-one offers...and the warehouse club hot dog, which is a screaming good deal in his book. After all, you can get a hot dog and a drink for under $2. Where else can you eat an entire meal for such a low price? This is the rhetorical question my dad asks each time he hands another still-steaming foil cylinder to me. 

This thrifty tradition goes way back. On Sundays, when I was younger, my parents would make a weekly Sam's (another cult club warehouse store) run to stock up on household necessities in bulk. With three young kids in the house, we went through things like toilet paper and cereal quickly, necessitating these pilgrimages to the kind of club where, instead of throbbing music and colorful light shows, you're surrounded instead by elevator music and fluorescent lights that wouldn't be out of place in an interrogation room. My brother, my sister and I adored these trips. It was here that we learned another one of my dad's methods for seeking out a good food deal: the free samples.

"Think of it as an appetizer," he'd say, leading us past the 64oz bottles of olive oil and the kiddie-pool sized tubs of mayonnaise to the first of many free food oases. Bite-sized sections of sandwiches, pizza rolls, crackers with a tiny square of "interesting" cheese on them, communion-sized cups of juice...we consumed it all, trailing behind our Free Food Sensei and learning from his wise ways. We'd chew thoughtfully and comment on the merits of each sample as if we were food critics. This was a process, after all.  

At the end of our journey, our appetites sufficiently whetted, my dad would leave my mom to wheel our teeming cart through the checkout and take us over to the food counter (conveniently placed so you have to walk by it to leave). He'd pull out a ten, buy us all hot dogs, and present them to us. After the vigorous sampling, it felt like we had earned it. 

Tonight, after a quick spin through Costco to collect supplies for my sister-in-law's baby shower this weekend, I knew exactly what my dad was doing when he kept walking once we pulled up to the checkout lane. I followed him, and sure enough, I was rewarded with the first foil-wrapped hot dog I'd had in quite some time. 

"Only the best for his girls," my mom commented with a smile as she and my sister took their own pieces of nostalgia. 

When I was younger, I coated my prize with ketchup and added mustard as an afterthought. These days, I take healthy doses of ketchup, mustard and relish on my hot dogs. Tonight, I unleashed my inner kid as I decorated my dog, delighting in the waves of happy memories that flowed over me as I did. 

My condiment preferences may have matured as I have gotten older, but there's one part of me that's the same: the part of me that still loves eating a Costco hot dog with her dad. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

22/31: Scaring the Seagulls #sol17

Thanks to the Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting the #sol17 writing challenge! 
Morning sunlight glints off the ocean. Sweat earned by my morning run dries on my skin. The waves inch in, then slip back out again, their edges bordered by white foam. I stand, my hands on my hips, and look ahead. 

I'm looking at the seagulls. 

If you've been to the beach, you know that the gulls are ubiquitous. Here, they dot the sand in front of me like beached buoys. They stand, sentries of the shoreline, watching me. I watch them back. They are unimpressed by me. I don't have food, which means that I'm basically worthless. They all but turn their beaks up at me as they poke at the ground, searching for sustenance. 

Then, without warning, I get An Idea. If you know me, you know that I get nonsensical urges from time to time. They're totally irrational, totally random and totally silly. 

For no reason at all, I want to run towards the seagulls like a crazy person, flailing my arms and screaming, just so I can force them to notice me.

I know. It's a little rude. After all, like me, the seagulls are enjoying this fine South Carolina morning. They're minding their own business, saving their annoying natures for later when some hapless six-year-old opens a bag of Cheetos. 

I dig the toe of my running shoes in the wet sand, forming a little well. Maybe I should leave them alone. I look back at the seagulls. They aren't even looking at me.

I make up my mind. I sprint full speed ahead at the seagulls, my arms raised over my head and my fingers splayed. They stare at me for a moment, waiting to see if I will stop. I don't. 

If seagulls could roll their eyes and sigh, they would as they rise into the air as one, sailing overhead lazily for but a moment. I retreat, giggling like a schoolgirl, and they settle back on the sand. They shuffle their feet as if to reprimand me for my stunt, but I can take it. Seagull shame is worth the one moment of unadulterated bliss earned by giving in to one of my impractical yet hilarious urges. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

21/31: Something About Salt Air #sol17

Thanks to the Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting the #sol17 writing challenge!

There's just something about salt air. 

Each breath in is a promise, each exhale a freedom. Brine mixes with the sort of sunshine you only find next to the ocean, and with every lungful, I feel new. But there is a familiarity there. A comfort. Salt air always tastes the same, no matter how long it's been since you breathed it last. 

I walk toward the waning sun, next to my sister and behind my mother. Translucent jellyfish who long ago gave up the ghost dot the beach that stretches in front of me. They catch the light, looking like delicate soap bubbles that have yet to burst. Miniscule shells crunch beneath my bare feet, their textured sides mingling with the puttylike consistency of the wet sand that tickles my toes. Above, a bright red kite soars in the blue, blue sky, the cherry on top of the sundae that is today. 

My sister and I share the same stride, our feet striking the sand in tandem. We talk, pull faces, and execute overwrought leaps (a halfhearted attempt to recall the days when we used to dance) that cause us both to double over in laughter.  She points out dogs and wishes they would come closer so that she could pet them. I dart into the cold waves, shrieking each time the tide envelops my toes. Our wind-tossed hair mingles as we walk. Her brown strands are darker than mine, but the texture is the same. 

Time has passed since we were last together, but us? We are the same. We pick up right where we left off. We are a beloved book that has been shelved whose story is instantly familiar the moment it is opened again. 

My sister squints against the sun and looks forward at our mother, who is slowly becoming smaller and smaller as she moves away from us. 

"Let's catch up to Mom." 

I nod. I take in a deep breath. There's just something about salt air. Each breath in is a renewal, each exhale a declaration. 

And I run, exhaling and screaming and giggling and whooping like I'm six again. And my sister is right beside me, our feet striking the sand in tandem, our breaths mixed with bursts of laughter. 

We close the gap. We reach my mother at the same time. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

20/31: In Transit #sol17

Thanks to the Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting the #sol17 writing challenge!

Author's note: I'm traveling to South Carolina today to see my family, so here's a short poem (written in twenty minutes since that's the duration of my free wi-fi here...get it together, Lambert!).

The airport is...
A revolving door,
The in-between,
A constant state of limbo. 

We are
We are
In transit. 

I am a boomerang 
But always returning
Back to where I started. 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

19/31: The Cinnamon Roll That Wasn't #sol17

Thanks to the Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting the #sol17 writing challenge! 
9:50 AM.

I sighed and turned my phone over so that I wouldn't be tempted to check the time again. 

"She said 10, right?" I looked at my husband, the corners of my mouth turning down slightly, a move that he knows is the precursor to the Full-Blown Katie Pout (TM). 

He nods his head. "Do you want to wait?" 

I looked at the table in front of us. Both of our dishes were empty. Traces of my ham and egg burrito and smears of the whipped cream from his French toast were the only remnants of our breakfast. I glanced over at the chalkboard sign over the counter that bore the words that had haunted me since we walked through the doors of Russell's Cafe: Saturday is Cinnamon Roll Day! 

I looked Scott dead in the eye. "Yes." 

I have A Thing for cinnamon rolls. Simply put, I adore them. They are nature's perfect food. So naturally, when Scott and I arrived at Russell's at 9 AM, the first thing out of my mouth after the perky girl behind the cash register greeted me was, "So, about those cinnamon rolls..." 

Her face fell momentarily. "Yes, we have cinnamon rolls, but they're not ready yet. They take a while to proof. They'll be done around 10, I think." 

So here we were. Our breakfast was finished. Scott had drank at least three cups of coffee. I was nursing my second glass of iced tea and had read the free copy of St. Louis's food magazine from cover to cover in an attempt to take my mind off of the cinnamon roll (of course, this happened to be their pastry issue. Mission NOT accomplished).

10:05 AM.

Just as I was about to give up all hope, I heard a squeal from the girl at the register. "Oh, they're ready?! Awesome!"

She could only be talking about one thing.

I swear my ears literally perked up. I sat up a little straighter, waiting to witness the moment where the pastry I had (not so) patiently been waiting for was placed behind the counter next to the cookies, scones and muffins already on display.

Another worker walked out from the back, reverently holding a giant cast-iron pan. Inside sat six of the largest cinnamon rolls I had ever seen, each the size of a small dog. I'm pretty sure a heavenly glow surrounded the pan. The aroma was enticing. The rolls were perfectly browned. Steam rose from each perfect rosette of happiness. But something was missing...

"There's no...there's no icing?" I tore my eyes away from the rolls to look at Scott. The sorrow in his eyes confirmed my fears. NAKED CINNAMON ROLLS? The horror! 

10:10 AM. 

I picked up my keys and slid out of the booth. Scott didn't have to ask; I had already made up my mind.

There would be no cinnamon rolls eaten today. After all, when it comes to breakfast pastries, a girl's gotta have standards. 

Saturday, March 18, 2017

18/31: Where the Music is #sol17

Thanks to the Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting the #sol17 writing challenge! 
Author's Note: I had the pleasure of hearing Noam Pikelny play at The Old Rock House last night. I have a deep, deep appreciation for bluegrass music, so this was basically my version of nirvana. 

I shift on the leather stool I am perched upon, straining my eyes in the dim lighting of The Old Rock House to gaze at the small stage scattered with various stringed instruments. The low murmur of conversations floats across the intimate venue as we wait. The crowd is small and varied. An older man with suspenders and a flowing beard stands next to a girl in a floral dress. Off-duty musicians are given away by the callouses on their fingers. Older couples twine their arms around each other's waists, their heads tipped together as they wait for the main act to arrive. I take it all in. I am waiting too. 

Finally, the night's entertainment begins. An unassuming dark-haired man with a banjo slung across his shoulder walks to the center of the sparse stage, and without preamble, launches a shower of bright notes across the room, flinging them across the rapt audience as if they were candy at a parade or meteors darting across a night sky. The fingers of his right hand dance, the silver pick catching the light as it moves up and down the strings. His left hand waltzes up and down the fretboard. We jiggle our feet, nod our heads and tap our fingers to the beat he sets, but we are otherwise silent. This music demands to be heard. 

He looks over the crowd, not at it, as he plays. His eyebrows arch in time with his notes. In brief moments, a smile quirks at the corners of his mouth, interrupting his otherwise stoic expression. As I watch him do what he so clearly loves, I think that he is somewhere else. He is not here, in St. Louis, playing for a crowd united only by their common love of bluegrass music. He is playing for himself. He is where the music is. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

17/31: The Forgotten Junkyard #sol17

Thanks to the Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting the #sol17 writing challenge! 
I don't remember how old I was when I first came across the forgotten junkyard. Most of the memories I keep from the ages of seven to fifteen that have taken on an impressionistic quality, as if someone has taken their hand and smeared it across the still-wet paint. 

But I remember walking through the line of forest that cradled the 30 acres of land I grew up on, the smell of the decaying leaves wafting up with each step, the peculiar sort of silence that blankets places where human footprints are rare. I remember seeing the rusted plow, then the Pepsi can with a label that looked familiar yet foreign at the same time, then the burnished gold of an empty lipstick tube that was too ornate to be something that you'd find on a vanity today. And then I couldn't stop looking. 

This was not a diamond in the rough; it was the rough spot on a diamond. This was a landfill in the midst of my sacred trees. The oasis of the forest, teeming with life, gave way to this display of decay, recalling days where trash was left behind without a second thought. Discarded memories lay on their sides, slowly sinking into the ground, waiting to be forgotten for good. 

I stood. I looked, and I wondered, stories spinning in my head of the glamorous lady who had rolled the lipstick tube up and carefully painted her mouth and the man who had once looked at this plow with pride after a long day's work. 

These false stories lingered in the air, fabrications of my imagination, and for a moment, this blighted mark in the middle of the forest looked more like a beacon, shining with possibilities. I knew I would return here because it was both mysterious and familiar, history in layers, begging to be explored. 

And I did, for many years. I retraced my steps, always finding it right when I was sure this would be the time this portal to the past had closed. I discovered something new each visit: a set of curlers, a mason jar half-buried in the loamy soil with a fern growing steadily inside of it, a rusted Folger's can full of nails. My parents shrugged their shoulders when I asked where the forgotten junkyard had come from, but it didn't matter. It was there, and I had found it. 

 Someone else lives on those 30 acres now. I hope that, someday, as the smell of the decaying leaves surrounds each step he takes in the forest that I loved, he comes across the forgotten junkyard. And I hope that, for a moment, he pauses and wonders. Just like I once did. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

16/31: The Day Before Spring Break #sol17

Thanks to the Two Writing Teachers for hosting the #sol17 writing challenge!

The day before spring break is sharing writing while sipping Kool-Aid.
It's reading, commenting and thinking.
It's the audible sigh of satisfaction that accompanies a job well done.

The day before spring break is hallways brimming with excitement.
It's Florida, Memphis and Cuba. 
It's lockers slamming with finality.

The day before spring break is the slumping shoulders of an exhausted teacher.
It's conferences, piles of paper and the light at the end of the tunnel. 
It's "I love my job, but now, it's time to rest." 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

15/31: The Purrfect Prank #sol17

Thanks to the Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting the #sol17 writing challenge!
"Quick! SHE'S COMING!"

With a flurry of motion, Victoria, Chloe and I gathered up the scraps of paper, tape and scissors. It was evidence. Victoria's red bun bobbed merrily as she disposed of our paper trail in the recycling bin, and Chloe's brown eyes shone with mirth as she darted across the room as if she was searching for fingerprints. I stuck my head out of the door and checked the hallway. Coast was clear. For now. 

I looked around the math classroom. It looked normal...until you really started looking. Then, you began to see them.


A furry fluffball peered out from one of the pockets of the calculator caddy. One stretched languidly across the clock, lining up perfectly with the minute hand. Cats covered the stapler, the tape dispenser and the water cup on Mrs. Porter's desk. Two glowing eyes peered out from the plant that sat on the windowsill. We had even taped a picture to the projector screen and rolled it up so that the next person who pulled it down would be confronted with cuteness. 

This was not a random cat bombing. No, this was purposeful. The portraits were all of one feline in particular: Victoria's Persian cat, Percy.

How could you threaten to deep fry such
a cutie?!
It all started last week when Mrs. Porter threatened to deep fry Victoria's precious Percy as a joke. Not one to just allow someone to disrespect her precious pet, Victoria sidled up to me one day and told me her plan. She'd make Mrs. Porter love Percy. And what better way to do it than to make her see his cute little face everywhere she turned? As a lover of both cats and pranks, I was all in. 

So, at the end of the day yesterday when Mrs. Porter ran home to let out her dogs (of course she's a dog person), we sprang into action. With all the aplomb of three criminals carrying out a heist, we came, we saw and we cat-bombed. 

I have to say, it was all worth it when, half an hour later, Mrs. Porter returned, walked into her classroom and shrieked, "Why are there CATS everywhere?!" The three of us, who were hiding out in the classroom next door, dissolved into giggles, proud that our prank had gone off cat-astrophe this time. 

(P.S. Sorry not sorry about the awful puns. I have a thing for bad puns.)

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

14/31: Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow #sol17

Thanks to the Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting the #sol17 writing challenge!

Making a pie that you personally won't be able to eat is the ultimate sacrifice, I've decided. 

When my husband told me that his office was hosting a pie contest for Pi Day, I knew this would be a test of my willpower and my selflessness. After all, my s'mores pie is decadent, delicious and hard to refuse (if I do say so myself). 

Because of this, last night, I found myself crushing graham crackers with a little more force than necessary (which resulted in tiny tan-colored flecks flying across my kitchen) and whisking the chocolate into the cream like I was trying to create my own version of Charybdis. This wasn't quite the same as rage baking...this was more like jealous baking. 

I pulled the pie out of the oven and placed the marshmallows on top in a way that could only be described as wistful. With the broiler set to low, I slid the pie back in and sat in front of the oven, cross-legged and watchful as the marshmallows gleamed under the oven's light. The moment they began to turn brown, I scrambled to my feet and rescued my sugary confection. After all, I wasn't about to let all of my hard work literally go up in matter how much I wanted to yell, "If I can't have it, NO ONE CAN!"  

I swaddled my pie in Saran Wrap and sent it to work with my husband this morning. Our farewell was sentimental and tender. Parting was (literally) such sweet sorrow. (I'm talking about the pie, by the way. I get to see my husband again!) 

I don't know if Scott will win his Pi Day Pie Contest, but hopefully his coworkers will enjoy the fruits of my labor (despite the fact that my pie might be laced with a bit of my bitterness). I'll be sitting here at work, consoling myself with the fact that my hard work has brought happiness to others. Doesn't taste quite as satisfying, but hey, at least it's calorie-free! 

Monday, March 13, 2017

13/31: Currently #sol17

Thanks to the Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting the #sol17 writing challenge! 
A lot of the lifestyle bloggers that I follow do a 'Currently' post every once in awhile. I thought it might be fun to do for my slice today! If you decide to try this slice format, this post was helpful when deciding on my verbs! 

Reading: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. I've been meaning to read this for quite some time, so when I saw it at our school's Scholastic Book Fair, I scooped it up. I'm 100 pages in and fascinated by Backman's masterful ability to make the reader simultaneously love and hate Ove. 

Watching: Season 4 of The Americans on Netflix. Russian spies living in America? A prodigious amount of subterfuge, murder and clever disguises? '80s nostalgia? Sign me up. 

Eating: A green tea Kit-Kat that some blessed angel left in the staff workroom this morning with a "Free" sign next to it. If you've never had the pleasure, it tastes like a cross between carrot cake and those ubiquitous orange wafer cookies you can find in every supermarket ever. 

Listening: Noam Pikelny's new album, Universal Favorite, in preparation for seeing him live on Friday. I'm a longtime Punch Brothers fan, so I'm excited to see their masterful banjoist live. He also has a wonderfully dry, irreverent sense of humor--just my style. 

Loving:  The impromptu snowfall that blanketed St. Louis this morning. I know it'll be gone by tomorrow (and it's March, for crying out loud), but there's something so peaceful about snow. 

Planning: Our upcoming trip to New Zealand! My husband and I are headed there at the end of May when school ends. Truthfully, he's the master trip planner...I'm just picking out where we're going to eat. Typical. 

Waiting: For spring break in T-minus four days! I'm headed to South Carolina, where I'll get to see my brother, my sister-in-law, my parents AND my little sister, who lives in Germany. I'm optimistically packing shorts. It's warmer down there, right?

Sunday, March 12, 2017

12/31: Resetting my Furry Alarm Clock #sol17

Thanks to the Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting the #sol17 writing challenge! 
Every night before I go to bed, I set my alarm clock on my phone for 5:30 AM.

Every night, I remind myself that I really don't need to set an alarm. After all, I've got the most foolproof alarm there that is always on time, doesn't miss a day and is very, very persistent.

My cat, Waffle. 

Every morning at 5:15 on the dot, Waffle starts peeping. Yes, peeping. She doesn't really meow (she's too polite for that), but she makes it known that she wants me to get up. Because she's hungry.

I'm not entirely sure when she first started conning me to get out of bed at such an ungodly hour to fill up her food dish, but I can tell you that she's hard to resist. She is juuust annoying enough for me to sigh heavily, throw back the covers and trundle to the kitchen, where I blearily scoop out Fancy Feast from its tiny can and into her bowl. The entire time I'm preparing her breakfast, she continues to peep, as if to say, "Can you hurry up, please?"

By the time Her Highness is served (along with my other cat, Goose, who is much less food-focused than her little sister), I'm already up, so I might as well get on with my day. And so it goes. 

Today, however, due to Daylight Savings Time, my furry alarm didn't go off until 6:15 AM. While it felt like an hour earlier, a little spark of hope flamed in my chest. Tomorrow, would Waffle let me sleep in a little more? Had I actually found a benefit to the accursed decision to "spring forward?" 

Only time will tell. One thing I know to be certain, though: my alarm clock is way cuter than most.

Goose is on the left, and Waffle is on the right. Don't be fooled by the innocent faces. 

Learning to Call Myself a Writer

Six years ago, if you had told me that I would be sharing my messy, work-in-progress writing with my seventh graders and listening as they gave me feedback, I would have laughed. Feedback? From my students? Who’s the teacher here?
But here I was, standing in front of 25 thirteen-year-olds, bemoaning the fact that the scene where my protagonist was supposed to meet a friend just wasn’t working.
I looked at my students. “I need some ideas. What do you think?” Hands started to raise, and conversations floated between writing partners as they excitedly discussed directions for my story. As students shared ideas, I furiously typed comments on to my manuscript, trying to capture all of the possibilities that came from the writers in the room. Later, I’d go back and rewrite the scene, weaving in Kate’s suggestion that my protagonist give herself a pep talk before meeting her new friend as well as Izzy’s idea that she should be writing in her journal, a character trait that was important to the storyline.
These days, I am intentional about using the word writers when referring to my students. This language makes it clear that, in this room, we write and learn together. Too often, the way writing is taught amplifies the division between the students and the teacher: one is there to teach, while the rest are there to be taught.
Six years ago, I did not call myself a writer. Sure, I wrote, but I wasn’t a writer.  Like many of our students, I associated the word with someone who had an agent, and who spent hours workshopping manuscripts to shop around to publishing companies. The word “writer” was reserved for the elite few...not for teachers like me.
This mindset is damaging. It is what made me spend the first few years of my teaching career turning to the comfort of pre-made graphic organizers and canned, prescriptive ways of teaching writing, turning the art of putting words on a page into a paint-by-numbers activity. It is what made me clutch my own writing close to my chest, scared to share it with my students for fear that they would see my imperfect words and declare me unfit to teach English. It is what ultimately made the teaching of writing that I did do inauthentic, unmemorable, and frankly, ineffective.
I am now comfortable calling myself a writer, both to my students and to myself. This bold statement is one that resonates with students. It dismantles the pedestal writing is often placed on, making it accessible and for anyone who has something to say. It gives students the confidence to say, “I, too, am a writer.”
This declaration has revolutionized how I approach the teaching of writing. The differences are subtle, but the effects are profound. When we began brainstorming ideas for our realistic fiction stories, instead of spending time searching the Internet for graphic organizers, I spent time brainstorming ideas for my own writing piece. I filled pages in my journal and paused to take note of my process. In class, I shared my approach and invited my students to experiment with different methods of discovering story ideas. As we began drafting our stories, predictably, we learned that the process of writing a story is anything but easy. We hit many snags: ideas that didn’t go anywhere, phrases that just wouldn’t sing, the long distance between what’s in the head and what ends up on the page.
In the past, when students struggled, I might have offered rubric-based feedback that emphasized my role as an evaluator. However, because I write, feedback looks less like an “I say, you do” process and more like a conversation between two people who are on a journey together. I am able to nod my head in solidarity when students describe a difficulty and say, “Oh, me too. I’ve had trouble with that before. Let’s figure this out together.” There is perhaps no phrase more powerful that a teacher can utter than when a student shares a struggle. Because I write, I can be empathetic, not just sympathetic. Telling my writers that I deal with the very same issues they do levels the playing field and allows both of us to put our heads together as fellow writers to determine a best course of action.
When we published our realistic fiction stories, the sense of pride was palpable. We took time to share our stories, savoring the chance to read each other’s words. In the past, I might have skipped this step, instead gathering up the stories to critique and grade. However, these days, my feedback looks different. Instead of dismissing a student’s writing because it suffers from structural difficulties or grammatical issues, because I write, I am able to look closer and mine the piece for what the student is doing well. I celebrate the process, not the product, because I know just how difficult it is to write. This nuanced view of writing delves deeper than cut-and-dried categorizations of writing into “good” and “bad” piles, and it is only possible because I have experienced firsthand how writing progresses and changes the more one works at it.
The truth about writing is that it is never finished. And we are never completely finished “becoming” writers, no matter how many years of practice we have or degrees we hold. Every time I pick up a pen, I remember that writing is hard. This knowledge follows me into the classroom when I watch my writers work to put words on the page and weaves itself into every interaction I have with them. In the classroom of a teacher who writes, writing is no longer a remote act reserved for the creative few. Writing is for everyone with something to say, and anyone who writes is a writer. A freeing truth for both students and teachers alike.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

11/31: Shear Silence #sol17

Thanks to the Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting the #sol17 writing challenge! 
Every eight weeks, I see Hannah. When we hang out, we don't talk. 

This might seem weird, but Hannah is my hairdresser. She's a petite blonde who wields her scissors deftly, snipping and shaping like a sculptor. She whisks the cape around my shoulders like a pro. She manipulates a hairdryer like a contortionist, holding the round brush just right. She even makes my bangs look a little less stupid. 

And she rarely speaks to me. When she does, it's essential: "How many inches off? Is this how you part it?" 

And I love her for it. 

You see, I hate small talk. Despise it. So, as you can imagine, going to the hairdresser is not high on my list of preferred activities. In the past, this dreaded bi-monthly visit meant forced chatter and a feigned interest. I know that, in this world, there exists those special bonds between hairdresser and customer. The type where the lady who cuts your hair knows the middle name of your second son and the fact that your neighbor never puts the recycling out correctly. The type that you evoke in conversations as "my Scissor Sorceress" and "the only person I trust with my hair and my secrets."

I get it. But that's just not me. I prefer my haircuts silent, accompanied with only the whir of hairdryers and the awful pop compilation playing over the salon speakers. 

And Hannah gets it. She's quiet, methodical, fast and understanding. We never had a conversation about our lack of conversation, but it worked out all the same. I get a trim, she gets a generous tip. It works.

They say a good hairdresser is worth her weight in gold. You know what else is golden? Silence. And Hannah is 24 carat both respects. 

Friday, March 10, 2017

10/31: Shredding My Receipts #sol17

Thanks to the Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting the #sol17 writing challenge!
I climbed into my car this morning and looked around. They were everywhere.

Receipts. Stuffed in the door, crammed in the cupholders, strewn across the floor mats. The cold, hard evidence of my morning tea runs, my impulse Target purchases, my mad dashes to the gas pump when the low fuel light is blinking threateningly. They flutter around when my window is open like damaged paper cranes, and they crinkle under my feet when I climb into my car again after a long day at work. This paper-thin tune is always softly playing in the background of my commutes, barely discernible but still there.  

I sit in the driver's seat and rest my head on the steering wheel for a moment, lost in thought. As always, I take something small and spin it into something more, a trait that I both love and hate about myself. I wonder...if an anthropologist collected all of my receipts and put them on display, what picture would it paint of me? A girl who needs caffeine? One who likes to tempt fate? What does this very literal take on the phrase "leaving a paper trail" say about me? 

I lift my head, pick up the receipts and stack them on top of each other, forming the layers of an abridged history of me. Later, I will give them to my husband to shred, effectively destroying this snapshot of me.

Despite this solution, I still find myself wondering. What of the not-so-literal receipts that can't be ground up into confetti with the press of a button? The ones we leave behind with every interaction, every conversation, every choice? If, at the end of every day, an invoice popped out of some cosmic printer, what would it say? Would I be proud of it, or would I crumple it up in a cupholder and hope that no one sees? If the receipts of my days are laid end-to-end, will they form a paper chain of wonderful memories, or will they forge iron links that drag me down? 

I start the car. My thoughts flutter around me, errant slips of paper, and I swat at them, asking them to leave.

 Too heavy for a Friday, Katie.

For once, my thoughts listen. They linger for a moment, and then, they are gone. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

09/31: The Greeting Card Whisperer #sol17

Thanks to the Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting the #sol17 writing challenge! 

It's just a normal Thursday when I see it. 

Even though it is sandwiched between junk mail fliers advertising two for one hamburger deals and our water bill, I know exactly who it's from. I pluck it out and turn it over. Sure enough, the perfect penmanship of my sister in law stretches across the front of the light blue envelope, spelling out my name and my husband's. 

One thing to know about Lisa: she is a master at finding the perfect greeting card. She sends cards for every occasion, big or small, and sometimes, she sends cards for no reason at all. After all, in her opinion, the perfect greeting card is occasion enough. Simply put, the woman is a greeting card whisperer. 

Every card she's ever sent over the five years I've been with her brother has elicited a smile. Lisa knows that anything with cats, puns or food on it is an automatic win for me. Sometimes, she even pulls off the unthinkable: once, I received a card that featured cats floating in space...while sitting on pizza. The inside read, "Hope your day is out of this world!" I remembered looking at it with my mouth half-open, wondering, Where does she find these cards?   

I imagine her meeting someone with a trench card full of black market cards in a dark alley, forking over the cash necessary to replenish her stash and stuffing her purchases into a nondescript bag so as to not raise the suspicions of others. Or maybe she has an inside connection with one of the higher ups at Hallmark who sends her the latest and greatest, hot off the printing press. 

Regardless, she has her ways. And today, I'm the lucky recipient of her skills. I wedge my thumb under the flap of the envelope and begin to tear, eager to see what she has chosen this time.Will it be funny? Cute? Maybe a nice card for the beginning of spring...

 But before I savagely rip into the envelope, something makes me pause. With the kind of clarity that isn't usually afforded to me on Thursday afternoons, I realize that what's inside really doesn't's the fact that she is thoughtful enough to send me a card. Woah, is this what they meant by having a Hallmark Moment? 

And just like that, without even opening the envelope, a normal Thursday morphs into A Fun Mail Thursday, all thanks to Lisa. Tonight, I think I'll go to Target and scour the aisles until I stumble across a something worthy of The Queen of Greeting Cards. After all, if there's anyone in the world who deserves the simple pleasure of an impromptu letter in the mail, it's her. 

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

08/31: A Running Dialogue #sol17

Thanks to the Two Writing Teachers for hosting the #sol17 writing challenge! 
When I run, my thoughts do too. They spiral away from me like seeds blown off of a dandelion, attaching themselves to the most unlikely places. When I run, I imagine the stories that lie beneath the surface of the people I pass.

Today, my feet carry me past a man still dressed in a button-down shirt and tie with earbuds in, his face tilted up towards the sharp March sun. He embraces the harsh light, relishes it even, as it illuminates the golden hairs interwoven with the brown of his beard. He is smiling.

In my mind, he is in this park today at 5 PM, walking the same trail I am running on, because he has been trapped in a cubicle since 8 AM, crunching numbers for some project that means nothing to him. He doesn't feel much at work other than the click of his fingers against his keyboard or the headache stretching across his forehead. The conversations of his coworkers sound like they are underwater, muffled and unclear. The hum of the florescent lights is deafening. He spends hour after hour seated, bathed in the greenish light of his computer screen, waiting for the moment where he can feel a light that isn't artificial on his face again.

By the time he leaves the office, the sun is already getting low, so he walks in his Dockers and dress shoes, blasting angry music through his earbuds to erase the memory of another wasted day. Unlike earlier, here, he notices everything: the way the breeze coasting across his cheeks is like a river during the summer, with layers of warmth at the top and a current of biting cold underneath. The way blooms on the Bradford pears look exactly like popcorn kernels, exploding into life from the warmth of the past week. The way that the shadows of the people walking the trail stretch out like caricatures of themselves, fun house representations of reality.

I imagine all of this as I run past him, and for a moment, my shadow blends with his against the brilliant backdrop of green grass, and it is not clear where his begins and mine ends.

And then, he is behind me, We move in opposite directions, two strangers, connected only by one brief moment of imagination. 

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

07/31: A Literal Slice of Life #sol17

Thanks to the Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting the #sol17 writing challenge!
Today was our annual 7th grade science trip to dissect a pig heart at Saint Louis University. I decided to capture this rather literal slice of life with a series of lists.

Five Things Overheard in the Dissection Room:
  1. While dangling a piece of the right atrium in his hand: "This kind of looks like a mushroom." 
  2. "Time for my Grey's Anatomy moment."
  3. "I don't think my pig ate a healthy diet."
  4. "Can you take my picture while I pose with the pig heart?"
  5. "Ew, I think my pig heart just juiced on me."
Four Smells Permeating the Dissection Room:
  1. Formaldehyde 
  2. The powdery substance that coats the inside of surgical gloves
  3. Axe body spray
  4. Neosporin that was used on the one (only one!) cut sustained during the experience
Three Tools Handled Directly by 86 7th Grade Students:
  1. Forceps
  2. Scissors
  3. A super, super sharp scalpel
Two Facial Expressions Seen on Students' Faces:
  1. The look of utter disgust: curled upper lip, wrinkled nose, furrowed brow. 
  2. The look of utter awe: mouth in a perfect O, eyebrows raised in wonder. 
One Haiku to Sum Up Today:

Field trips: chaotic.
Students with sharp tools: scary.
Learning: so worth it.