Saturday, March 31, 2018

31/31: Easter Candy Weirdo

I've always been a little weird with my Easter candy preferences.

While children across America were pawing through their Easter-grass filled baskets and stuffing Reese's eggs in their mouths and biting the heads off of their chocolate bunnies, I was quietly taking stock of what I had in my own basket and scheming. You see, I knew that the candies I preferred had a low market value. And I could triple my stash if I cut deals with my siblings. I just had to play my cards right.

My wish list was pretty short:

  • Black jelly beans (yes, really) or red jelly beans. Preferably both.
  • Starburst jelly beans
  • Cadbury eggs (none of this mini-egg business...I'm talking the Cadillac of egg-shaped candies: the original full sized Cadbury Creme egg)
  • SweeTart chicks and bunnies


Thankfully, both of my siblings hated licorice-flavored candies, so I could get copious amounts of black jelly beans for a song. Cadbury eggs were also an easy sell: a few mini Crunch eggs could buy me a whole lot of the full-sized chocolate eggs with the creamy, sweet center.

I needed to use my smooth-talking skills a little more when trying to increase my stash of Starburst jellybeans (my sister also enjoyed them), and the chicks and bunnies were a hard sell (especially the blue ones, which we all know are the best).

But despite the odds, every Easter, I managed to get a nice little treasure trove of not-so-popular candies that would last me for an entire...three days.

So if any of your children turn their noses up at their black jelly beans this Sunday, let me know. I know a girl who can take them off your hands...

Friday, March 30, 2018

30/31: My Day in 6 Words

I'm borrowing an idea from my Slice Partner In Crime, Liz, and writing about my day in 6 words!


Waking: Five minutes before the alarm, eyes wide open

Morning: Large iced tea...I need the caffeine. 

Lunch: Leftover pizza always tastes even better when you forget you brought it for lunch.

Afternoon: Quiet after school help session...and I got to finish my book (Love, Hate and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed)

Evening: Barre class that left me sore in the best way possible.

Bedtime:  In bed by 8 and totally okay with it.

Sleep: Crazy dreams, like always...as if Picasso himself is distorting my reality into exaggerated versions of my day.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

29/31: An Unusual Morning Ritual

My morning is full of rituals.

The same alarm.
The same plaintive peeps from hungry cats.
The same three food dishes for three cats.
The same shampoo in the shower.
The same snacks in my lunchbox.
The same breakfast (toast and bacon).

But there's one ritual that I love above all of the other routines in my morning: my hair-drying ritual.

I don't wash my hair every day (I'm lazy and love dry shampoo). But on days that I do, I take the time to dry my shoulder-length hair carefully, lest I end up with a strange cowlick.  Before I attack it with a round brush, I try to get my hair mostly dry. I flip my head upside down, blast the warm heat evenly over my scalp, and run my fingers through my hair as I move the hairdryer back and forth. It's predictable and sort of soothing.

But that's not really the reason I love the ritual. There's someone else who loves it when I dry my hair: My oldest cat, Goose.

Goose is 12 years old, and she is a creature of habit. She sleeps in the exact same spot on the bed (upper left corner). She plays with the same toys (a fuzzy ball that rolls nicely across our wooden floor). She wants the same things (to go outside and feast on grass). And she always, always, always watches me dry my hair.

Watching isn't the right word. She's an active participant and an essential component to cultivating the perfect hairstyle. As soon as she hears the whir of the dryer and sees me bend at the waist, Goose gets up from her "beached whale" position right by the bathroom door and heads towards my outstretched hand. She circles my legs, leaving little gray hairs on my pants. She rubs her head furiously across my fingers, demanding pets. I oblige her as I hold the hair dryer in one hand and try to keep up with her pet quota with the other. If I stop for a moment, she meows grumpily and raises up on her hind legs like a little seal, begging for more attention. How can I resist? 

This little ritual makes me smile every time it happens. It's a win-win, really. Goose gets attention. I get a dry head of hair. We both get a little extra happiness at the beginning of our days.


Wednesday, March 28, 2018

28/31: An Alarming Interruption

There are a lot of sounds I expect to hear in a middle school:

  • Fart jokes
  • Cracking voices
  • Groans and moans at the sight of a new assignment
  • The muffled ping of a cell phone
  • High-pitched squeals
  • The thudding of feet followed by an adult's voice yelling "SLOW DOWN!"

With this lineup, you'd think I'd be prepared to hear just about anything. But today, I was absolutely not prepared for the godawful sound I heard right in the middle of my 6th hour class: the fire alarm.

The piercing, shrill scream scared all of us, me especially. I was nervous. We weren't in the classroom. Instead, we had adjourned to the library for the hour, a move that normally makes me happy, since it gives me a break from being the teacher for the day. Today, however, I cursed at our misfortune. Not only did I have to scramble to the door to familiarize myself with the fire plan, but I had to contend with the sound as well. The fire alarm is eardrum-bursting level anywhere in the building, but the library's lofted ceilings and tin roof amplified the horrible noise to a level that none of us could handle. With fingers jammed in our ears, we made our way outside to the appointed meeting spot in a somewhat-orderly fashion...only to be greeted by gray skies, muddy grass and a light mist that settled across our uncovered heads. Great.

This was no drill. No administrator in their right mind would take a bunch of middle schoolers and plunk them outside in these conditions. We huddled together, a morose motley crew of hoodies and grumpy faces. My students peppered me with questions about what was going on, and I smiled at how cute it was that they thought I actually knew any more than they did. We waited for the fire department to show up, wondering how long it would take for us to hear yet another alarm headed our way. Some optimistic students crossed their fingers that we would be sent home for the day (I let them believe). We jumped up and down. We did the Macarena (kids still know it these days). We dramatically exclaimed at our misfortune. We waited. And waited. Some of us more patiently than others. 

The fire trucks arrived. It was anticlimactic. They did not arrive with urgency, and their sirens were pitiful mews compared to the banshee scream of the fire alarm still sounding from the building. "Must not be too big of a deal," I mused aloud, wondering when we'd finally be granted access back inside. 

Just as the rain began to pick up, I saw the clump of students across the way begin to move en masse towards the building like a herd of wildebeest ambling towards shelter. We were free. As we pushed inside the building, our ears still ringing with phantom alarms, I heard one student sum up the event perfectly: "Thank God that's over."

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

27/31: Snuggle Buddy

It was a long day. A "get pizza for dinner" kind of day. A "take an extra square of dark chocolate" kind of day. A "crawl under your fuzzy blanket at 7PM" kind of day.

I slowly warmed under my covers, scrolling through the blog posts, Instagram stories and Facebook posts that chronicled the online happenings of the day. Just as I zoned out while reading a particularly delectable-looking recipe blog post, I felt a little thump at my feet. I looked down. There perched Waffle, my middle cat. She began picking her way across the uneven swells of my body towards me, gingerly navigating my bony knees and slippery legs as she headed towards her favorite spot: my stomach. As she settled in, folding her stripey tail in to wrap around her compact little body and closing her eyes, I sighed contentedly.

Now it's a "snuggle with your cat" kind of day.

Monday, March 26, 2018

26/31: Cooking Therapy

This might be an unpopular opinion, but I find meal planning to be soothing.

There's something about gathering recipes, making a list, grocery shopping and stocking the refrigerator for the week ahead that makes me feel like A Real Adult. During the whirlwind of the week, on days when I straggle in the door laden with my gym bag, books to read for school and a to-do list that feels a mile long, it's nice to have something already planned for me.

Sure, I still have to cook said meals. But that's the part I really don't mind. Cooking is all about relieving stress for me. While I'm prepping my meal, I forget pretty much everything else and lose myself in the precision (or lack thereof) of it all. Tonight was no different. The recipe on tap? Asian-inspired steak bowls. As soon as I got home from work, I made myself at home in the kitchen.

I cut the steak into equal-sized strips.
I peeled two pears carefully, their juices running down my fingers.
I pureed in my food processor, pressing the pulse button again and again until the consistency was just right.
I chopped the green onions, their sharp and fresh smell permeating the kitchen.
I whisked the sauce together, enjoying the scrape of the whisk against the plastic bowl.

And when all was said and done, I presented. I covered the bottom of the bowl with brown rice. I nestled a cluster of mixed greens on one side. I added a pile of steak on the other. I peeled a soft-boiled egg quickly and slashed it with a knife, loving how the bright yellow yolk contrasted with the pure white outside. I sprinkled green onions on top. Dashed some sesame seeds across the mix and covered it all with a drizzle of the "yum yum" sauce I had prepared.

I stepped back and looked at my work. Almost too pretty to eat...almost.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

25/31: The Buffer Day

I'm a big believer in what I call "the buffer day" when it comes to traveling.

Essentially, the buffer day is a day in between the end of your trip and when you have to resume "normal life," AKA work and other responsibilities. For me, the buffer day is essential: it lets me adjust slowly back into the routine of things and gives me time to get my life back together after traveling.

We arrived back from our trip to Hawaii yesterday, and I can't tell you how nice it was to know that I had Sunday to clean, unpack, do laundry and cook for the week ahead. After sleeping in way too late (time zones, man), I had the entire day to do just that...plus I even had time to catch a barre class, which, after eating like a queen in Hawaii, felt pretty necessary.

I know tomorrow will be here soon. And I certainly have quite the list of responsibilities that will pick up right where they left off.

Tomorrow, I have to go to school.
Tomorrow, I have to finish grading tests I've put off for too long.
Tomorrow, I have to go to meetings.
Tomorrow, I have to set an alarm.
Tomorrow, I have to pack a lunch.
Tomorrow, I have to wear pants with a button on them (ugh).


But today? Today's my buffer day. And I'll worry about tomorrow...tomorrow.

24/31: The Plane Truth

Recycled air feels
Just like sandpaper scraping
Up and down my throat.

The in-flight service
Makes a 4 ounce cup of water
Look awfully good.

Trying to find sleep
Means sore necks and blurry eyes
Unsatisfying.

Knowing home is near
I buckle up one more time
Travel is worth it.

Friday, March 23, 2018

23/31: Feeding Time

I rounded the corner and joined in with the gasps of the slew of elementary-aged children around me.

The fish was huge. I mean, massive. It totally warranted the gasps.

The sign indicated that this was a giant grouper (emphasis on the giant, apparently). He swam towards the front of the tank, slowly, methodically, as if he knew his heft was impressive. His deep blue scales contrasted with the muted colors of the coral reef behind him. He was majestic.

The children pressed their hands against the glass, eyes round with awe. The grouper swished his tail, the effort shooting bubbles off to the sides. Other fish circled behind him, background noise to his main overture. We were riveted.

Suddenly, the fish began to move quickly to the surface. Small splashes indicated it was feeding time. With all of the ferocity of a velociraptor, the fish nabbed their prey. The grouper went last, snagging his meal and swimming away. The head of the smaller fish hung out of one side of his mouth, blank eyes watching nothing. Maybe he was saving it for later.

The grouper swam towards his audience once more, this time with the fish dangling from his mouth like a stubby cigar, and with his prominent brow and menacing look, I suddenly saw him as a mob boss coming to collect...and we were the unfortunate saps who had dared to cross him.

Before he could confront us, the tank was filled with a blur of bubbles as another, slightly smaller fish darted to the side of Godfather Grouper and nabbed the rest of his lunch straight out of his mouth. No more stubby cigar.

We shrieked in delight at the impudence of this smaller fish, certain that the grouper would retaliate. But he just swam away with the sort of air that only comes along with being certain that you are big enough to get revenge...if you want to.

The tank calmed down again, and I moved on, but I still wonder if Godfather Grouper ever decided it was time for his food-stealing counterpart to...sleep with the fishes?

Thursday, March 22, 2018

22/31: Remembrance

The small ship approaches, rolling over the choppy waves. Gray skies contrast with the steel blue of the sea. "Tie it up tight. No slack." The command given by the Navy official is nearly swallowed up by a gust of wind. My hair whips across my face as I join the line to step off of the boat.

I feel myself tipping from side to side as I follow my fellow passengers up the ramp. I clutch my rain jacket close to myself, struggling to find purchase on the mist-soaked ground. I alternate my glance from my feet to the memorial we approach: the site of the USS Arizona's final resting place, one of the battleships destroyed in the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

The monument is pure, blinding white, the sort of color that takes on the light around you, forcing your eyes towards it. It is narrow, a sort of tube, with open-air windows that are concentrated wind tunnels in today's dismal conditions. I feel exposed to the elements. Unable to hide from the truth of what I am standing on. A grave.

The entire structure is curved, higher at both sides and lower in the middle. It's symbolic, of course, an intentional choice by the monument's designer to represent World War 2 for the US, the nadir being Pearl Harbor itself.  I walk forward, silent, listening to nothing but the wind and the hushed murmurs of my fellow visitors. The end of the monument opens up into a windowless room, quiet and somber. Granite walls stretch up to the ceiling, covered with names.

Two first initials. One last name. Repeat 1,102 times. Bodies interred here, soldiers caught unawares. Living life until the last moment: playing cards, smoking, writing a letter to a girl back home. Snatched in a second at 07:48 on December 7th, 1941.

I think I know the meaning of the word sacrifice, but not really. Standing here, watching the fish innocuously swim around the orange-red shell of the fallen ship, I realize something. Sacrifice doesn't always mean knowingly plunging into the breach, fighter guns blazing and American flag held aloft.

It means going about your day, living below decks, joking with your buddy and donning the dress whites. It means that, despite this semblance of regularity, every moment has that undertow of potential sacrifice. You have the knowledge that this normalcy is anything but, and it could all be gone in a moment. And when it is gone, you're a hero. You go down with the ship. You stay there, entombed in a rusting behemoth that represents the nadir but also the sacrifice.

Years pass. People walk above you, they read your name, they stay silent while they try desperately to understand what this all means. They use the word sacrifice, but do they understand it anymore? Can they?

I turn away from the endless list of names, troublingly unfamiliar. I watch the ocean crest over the remains of the USS Arizona. I think about time, and how it changes things but never erases. I imagine this memorial 50 years from now, 100. Who will stand here? What will they think?

I walk out of the monument. The gales are stronger now, as if to match my emotions. As the crewman unties our boat and we move away, I watch the American flag, raised above the white curvature, struggling against the wind.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

21/31: Hawaiian Alarm Clock

He starts around 3AM. A distant unfamiliar cry, overlaid with the sounds of the city beginning to wake up (tires whooshing, crosswalks counting down, engines rumbling). The incongruous mishmash of city sounds plus a noise I associate with rural countrysides: a rooster's cockle-doodle-doo.

He's consistent. One crow every minute, simultaneously triumphant and plaintive. I wonder what he's thinking of when he trumpets, whether he knows the sleep-rousing effects of his calls or if he simply likes the sound of his own voice.

Either way, he's effective. Inconsistent time zones plus unfamiliar beds means I'm up when he demands, rolling on my side and drifting in and out of the kind of sleep that comes when you're floating on the surface of slumber, the hazy in-between stage punctuated by a barnyard animal's brays.

I remove myself from bed eventually. It's now past seven, and I set off in search of food. As I cross the street, I see him. He struts around next to a scattering of picnic tables. No one seems to own him, but even if someone did, I have a feeling he'd answer to no one. We make eye contact. He lifts one clawed foot dramatically and sets it down as he parades across his domain. His tail feathers are a firework explosion behind him, quivering with his every step. I watch him, and I shake my head ruefully. The price of sleep seems irrelevant now in the face of this quirky, self-possessed bird.

As I walk away, I hear the Hawaiian alarm clock go off yet again. Island time indeed.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

20/31: Dive Log 001

I went scuba diving yesterday at Waikiki Beach. In honor of my dad, a PADI certified diver, I'm going to try my hand at writing a dive log, something he always does after a dive. 

Dive #: 005
Date: 19 March 2018
Location: Waikiki Beach, HI (Turtle Cove)
Dive Company: Kaimana Divers, LLC

Bottom Time: 75 min. over 2 dives (30 & 45 min)
Max Depth: 45 ft

Equipment:

  • 1 wetsuit (a little too short in the arms, but hey. It worked.)
  • 1 air tank
  • 2 respirators 
  • 3 different buckle points (which my instructor snapped for me...I felt like a child getting buckled into a car seat)
  • 2 bright yellow fins
  • 1 set of weights 


Conditions:

  • 73 degrees air temperature. 
  • Water-chilly. Slightly shivery at the bottom. 
  • Visibility: awesome. Clear view of the bottom immediately upon entry. 


Nature Encounters:

  • 5 sea turtles (plus their fish friends that were cleaning algae off of their shells)
  • 1 majestic sea snake (white with black spots, undulating around looking for food)
  • 2 whitetip reef sharks (regarding me what I thought of as menacingly from underneath a reef, but my dive instructor described them as the puppies of the sea)
  • 1 long, skinny cornetfish 
  • Endless sea urchins
  • Countless parrotfish
  • Long fingers of coral with small fish nestled in between
Diver's Reflections:
When can I get certified, and when can I go again? 


Monday, March 19, 2018

19/31: Portrait of Waikiki

The weather: 80 degrees. Slight breeze. A few fluffy clouds drifting over Technicolor blue skies.

The people: chill. Aloha and mahalo. No shoes, no shirt, no problem. Drivers wave you across crosswalks with a smile. Wet footprints leading down the sidewalk to the beach. Worn surfboards held aloft like waiters hold heavy serving platters, offerings to the ocean.

The agenda: nonexistent. I abandon my "city walking" pace in favor of more of an amble. Wet sand, unstable footing, wet toes. I spread the beach towel, lie here for awhile and let the sun sweep its rays across my pale, pale body. No judgement here. The only requirement for a beach body is having a body.

The result: a sort of bliss that only a teacher knows, a teacher who is convinced January and February had approximately 124 days in them. Each.

I think I'm going to like it here.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

18/31: Transition

From 40 degrees to 81.
From MO to HI.
From “hi y’all” to “aloha.”
From barely budding trees to lush palms.
From industrial highways to winding, unpredictable roads.
From duty to relaxation.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

17/31: My Trusty Purple Backpack

Traveling is tiring. There's the hassle of packing, the rush of security, the boredom of waiting for your plane, the impatience of the flight, and, finally, you're spit unceremoniously out into the airport of your destination.

But I have a secret weapon, and that's my suitcase. Or, rather, my Un-Suitcase.

When I first traveled abroad, I purchased a travel backpack instead of a traditional suitcase with wheels. Since my husband and I were going to be "hardcore traveling," i.e. jumping from place to place quickly, the backpack made more sense when hoofing it from train station to hostel.

Little did I know that this bright purple bag with approximately 8 zillion pockets would turn out to be the best travel buddy ever.

Traveling for 2 days? 2 weeks? Doesn't matter. The backpack can fit all of your clothes with ease. Need a little more room? Unzip this zipper and presto: expansion.
Need to compress it down a little to fit into an overhead compartment? Four simple snaps, and everything's nicely bundled up.
Tired of waiting for your flight, but there's no seats available next to the gate? Sit on your backpack! It's actually quite comfortable.
Want to turn your backpack into a traditional suitcase? Tuck the straps in and grab the side handle...it's much easier to squeeze through narrow plane aisles that way.
Need to fight off a potential enemy? The backpack on your back becomes a powerful weapon when you plant your feet and swing it, perfect for knocking assailants off of their feet.

(Kidding about the last one...sort of. I've never had to try it, but I'm pretty sure it would work.)

I've had many trips with my purple backpack, and she looks as good as new. She's durable, practical and still maintains a slight modicum of stylishness.

I think I'll keep her.

Friday, March 16, 2018

16/31: A Hotel Interior Decorator's Memo

I am currently killing time before my flight back home to St. Louis. I'm a little obsessed with noticing hotel interior decorating choices, so I decided to imagine what a memo written by this hotel's designer would say.

Re: interior design of Washington Capitol Hotel lobby in DC

In the style of a minimalistic, tasteful artist. Bland enough to disappear into the background for harried businessmen. Interesting enough for the observant young teacher to appreciate. Intentional. Modern. Subdued yet intriguing. Let me paint you a picture...

A cool palette of slate, cream and dove gray should swirl across the carpet in a pattern reminiscent of static or pixelated fog. A pop of blue in the art hanging on the walls, a smudge of cerulean against darker abstract shapes. Light fixtures should be airy, circular, pendulous. If they're not, they must be recessed as far into the ceiling as possible. No middle ground.

Furniture: modern shapes take precedence over function. Sure, we want people to sit, but we don't want them to get comfortable enough to stay longer than they have to. Too many sitting patrons means we aren't efficient enough to have rooms ready promptly. Square leather cushions without backs in pure black, arranged in neat rows. Ground-grazing chaises in muted gray. A coffee table that's far too low to easily reach your cup...bright reflective aluminum, shaped like a tree stump. Booths lined with cushions that are merely suggestions of pillows. Comfort isn't our goal here.

A sculpture here, by the smooth marble tables. Mobius strips intersecting with each other, gentle twists, uncertain endings and beginnings. It's symbolic, of course. Where does your normal life end and your vacation begin? We make the transition seamless. White? No. Black is better. Black is always better.

Add greenery under the stairs. A lone pink orchid, stretching up to the steps above. Subtle, yet poignant. After all, we're not going for sterile.

These are all merely my thoughts, of course. But whatever you do...no velvet, no '70s carpet patterns and, above all, no red. Red is too aggressive. Hotels are about suggestion. Consider taking mine into consideration when making final design decisions.

Best,
I So Don't Do Holiday Inns

Thursday, March 15, 2018

15/31: Capitol Hill Maze

Today, I spent time on Capitol Hill advocating for Title 2 and SEED funds for the National Writing Project. Let's just say the layout of some of the buildings wasn't intuitive...

I sighed and looked at Nancy and Julie, my colleagues. Another dead end. 
"I swear the sign said this way..."

My voice trailed off as men with ties flapping blew by us and women in impractical heels clunked past purposefully. I squinted my eyes and read the gold-embossed sign again. 

"Let's try this way," I said, clutching my folder with materials about the National Writing Project in my hand. We rounded another corner and began to see office doors decorated with state flags. Some congresspeople had their social media handles by their doors, which I found amusing. 

211. 215. We were getting closer.

Weak florescent lights reflected off the glossy floor as we approached our target. We readied our research briefs, rehearsed our stories and adjusted our name tags. We took a deep breath and pushed open the heavy wooden door. 

It was game time.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

14/31: Row 15, Seat B

I stood on my tiptoes, trying to see beyond the squished line of strangers and the Jenga-puzzle packed overhead bins. Were there any seats left in the back of the plane? I fidgeted with the straps of my purse as we shuffled forward, inch by inch. I hadn't flown Southwest in a long time. What was this no assigned seats business? Those who know me might be surprised to hear this sentiment. After all, I let my students choose their own seats in my classroom.

But here, on this pressurized biscuit can of a plane, a bit of predictability sounded like a good idea. But as it stood, my seat was not preordained by some computer algorithm or benevolent airline worker. It was all up to chance at this point.

People started to peel off into seats as I scooted closer to the flight attendant directing traffic.
"There's a seat right here, hon," she said, smiling the smooth practiced smile of a someone who's no stranger to the service industry and its requirement for a bit of canned politeness.

I looked at where she pointed. A middle seat. Between two older men. Both had already nestled their elbows territorially on the armrests. I craned my neck, looking for other options. The stewardess snapped her gum and shook her head. I was stuck.

I hoisted my carry-on up and into the overhead bin. I wiggled myself into my seat, settled in and buckled up. Only then did I notice something strange. My legs weren't touching the seat in front of me. I looked up, confused. Was I...

"You're sitting in an exit row. Please listen carefully..."

I sighed and stretched my legs. Lucky me.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

13:31: Pressure

Things I'm better at when under pressure:
  • Cutting corners in inventive ways (when running late, the lid to the cream cheese tub becomes a knife!)
  • Making outfit decisions (when you've got three minutes, everyone becomes a fashion expert)
  • Chopping vegetables quickly and dramatically (while keeping thumbs in tact)
  • Making dramatic sound effects to help keep myself motivated (a well-placed "whoosh" as I rush from room to room does wonders)
  • Carrying more bags per arm than one might think possible (if you balance it out, it's all good!)
And, of course...
  • Writing (when you have a late night at school and still have yet to slice at 9:30 PM, it's amazing what you can do under a little pressure!)

Monday, March 12, 2018

12/31: My Desk Horoscope

I've had a lot of desks throughout my teaching career. Most of them were unremarkable: made of dark wood. Heavy. Far too big, with drawers that didn't quite shut right and that were too often filled with half-chewed erasers, confiscated fidget spinners and old hall passes that never made it to the recycle bin. As I moved from classroom to classroom, I never felt much when I left my old desk behind. It was a place to stack ungraded papers and a perpetually empty cup of pencils. Just another piece of furniture.

However, two years ago, things changed. I got a new desk. And not just any old piece of furniture resurrected from a boiler room deep in the bowels of the school. Nope. My desk was handmade by my dad. We went dumpster diving in the brimming disposal bins next to recently built houses one sticky summer day in South Carolina for pieces of "good enough" wood. A few days, a lot of wood shavings and a couple of coats of paint later, I had a pretty nice desk (thanks, Dad).

Today, the desk sits in the corner of my seventh grade classroom. I'd like to tell you that I keep it perfectly organized, but the reality is that it's cluttered. I try to keep it clean, but I'm me. I'm a bit messy, and my desk is a reflection of me. Each item that sits on its surface tells a story. If you look carefully enough, you can read my desk horoscope:

A crocheted bee from my husband: I'm sentimental.

A framed picture of my very first group of Book Battle students: I'll never forget.

A large cup of iced tea: I'm tired.

A cat-shaped pouch brimming with my favorite colorful pens: I'm a writer.

An ever-growing stack of books: I'm determined.

Various stacks of Post-It notes, some with scrawled fragments of reminders: I'm a work in progress.

A button that exclaims "That was easy!" when you hit it: I'm silly.

My desk is more than just a flat surface with four legs. It's a landing spot, a personality kaleidoscope, a chaotic oasis in my classroom. And, should I change classrooms again, this is one piece of furniture I won't be leaving behind.



Sunday, March 11, 2018

11/31: 10 Thoughts During Hot Yoga

I've only taken a few hot yoga classes, but I hit one up this morning with my friend Ashley. Here's a running narrative of what was going through my head.

1. Oh geez. They weren't kidding about the 'hot' part of hot yoga. Enough heat to rival a middle school dance or some sort of rave is radiating through this place.

2. I hope no one judges my cheapo Amazon mat with the puncture marks where my cats decided to sharpen their claws. #notfancy

3. That must be the instructor. Wait. Why is she heading towards the thermostat...are you kidding me?! She's bumping the temperature up!

4. Okay, here we go. Deep breaths. So this is what breathing should feel like...I need to do more of these at work.

5. Ugh, I am in desperate need of a pedicure. Nothing like a foldover to get up close and personal with your calluses.

6. At least my yoga pants are cute.

7. Tree pose is my favorite. I feel so...arborous when the instructor tells me to grow my branches.

8. Sweat. Everywhere. In places I don't care to admit. But hey, warrior pose looks way cooler when you're glistening, right?

9. Happy baby? Don't mind if I do. Looks so stupid, feels so good.

10. I'm pretty sure actual corpses don't sweat like this, but I don't care. I made it to savasana...and the end of class. A tall glass of water is in my future.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

10/31: The Awkward Shuffle

I like to think of myself as a fairly coordinated person. I dance, I don't trip over my own feet too often, and I am very good at balancing several different bags in my arms every morning as I make my way from my car into the middle school where I work.

But today, I was a little...off. Not once, not twice, but three separate times, I fell victim to The Awkward Shuffle (AS).

You probably have experienced The Awkward Shuffle. It happens when two people are walking towards each other and, instead of one person smoothly going right while the other goes left, both people go the same way at the same time. Cue The AS. Usually both people try to correct, which starts Round 2 of the Shuffle...and so it goes, until both people break into awkward laughter, apologize, and finally scoot past each other. If it happens in the Midwest, it's usually followed by the proverbial "ope" that we tend to say when faced with such a dilemma.

Usually, I try to avoid these scenarios by trying to intuit the other person's intentions. It's not exactly a science: a slight lean to one side, a shift in body weight, a darting of the eyes. But it usually works and we sail past each other with ease. Today, though, while zipping through Dierbergs (a local grocery store here in St. Louis), my sensors were decidedly off.

A near cart collision next to the deli. An awkward apology next to the crackers. A full-on reversal next to the checkout line, due to the unfortunate location of a display of wine (a product placement that almost actually worked on me...I was stressed enough to be thinking about a glass at that point).

I managed to escape the grocery store without hip checking, cutting off or running into anyone else, but I couldn't help but wonder what caused my sudden lapse into clumsiness. Planetary alignment? Weather changes?

Whatever the cause, I have decided it's best to spend the rest of my day inside. After all, a fourth Awkward Shuffle might do me in.

Friday, March 9, 2018

9/31:The Tinfoil Trap

Tiberius is our youngest cat, and like most youngest children, he is Special (capitalization intentional). I've already written about his penchant for water, but when he was about six months old, we learned that Tiberius is also a professional tightrope walker.

Well. Tiberius was a professional tightrope walker.

How it all started is unclear, but one night, Tiberius decided to hop up on top of our fabric-covered headboard and walk, loudly, to the other side...then reverse and walk backwards back to where he started, tail held aloft for maximum balance. He'd dig his little claws in for extra traction, which, in the middle of the night, sounds a lot like someone undoing Velcro shoes four hundred times in a row. Soothing.

The first time it happened, Scott and I laughed, mostly because he looked so silly walking backwards across the top of the bed. The second time, we were decidedly less cheery, as people tend to be when awoken at 3AM. By the thirtieth time (can you tell we're not parents? We let this go unchecked for far too long...), we were sleep-deprived enough to devise an action plan.

The next night, I walked into the bedroom to see something unusual sitting on our bed. Immediately, I knew that Scott had had enough. It was time to throw down our trump card, and our particular card happened to be silver, shiny and come in a convenient roll. Tinfoil.

Cats hate tinfoil. It freaks them out for some reason...maybe because it makes noise when touched or it feels strange on their paws. Either way, we knew that a certain kitty's tightrope walking career would be derailed by a well-placed sheath. Scott tore off two pieces of foil, wrapped them over the headboard and scrunched them a bit so they'd stay put. With our trap set, we went to bed.

Sure enough, right on time at 3AM, Tiberius padded into the room. He hopped up on my nightstand, and I could hear his little butt wiggling before he pounced up to the headboard. Poor thing. He had no idea.

What happened next was simultaneously comical and a little sad. Tiberius made contact, which sounded a bit like someone hitting a cymbal vigorously. Tiberius freaked out. Tiberius ran out of the room.

A few minutes later, I heard him try again, this time approaching from the opposite side. Crash. Thud. Scamper.

It's too soon to say if our trap has been entirely successful. For all I know, Tiberius will practice on the tinfoil while we're both out of the house and soon be ready for another nighttime performance. But for now, the cat circus has left town...and if it comes back, well...I've got a lot more tinfoil.

Author's note: This morning, I woke up and realized two things:
1. Tiberius did not attempt to tightrope walk last night.
2. I missed a prime opportunity to make a zinger of a pun in this post: we quite literally foiled his nighttime plans. 

Thursday, March 8, 2018

8/31: The Language of Frustration

I'm not big on New Year's Resolutions. After all, you can choose to reinvent yourself any day of the year, right?

However, without even realizing it, I did end up making a resolution for 2018. It was somewhere around day 25 that I realized that a momentary whim had turned into a full-blown obsession. I was thinking about the next time I'd practice. Wondering what other resources I could use. Asking everyone I knew for advice.

Yep. I had a resolution all right. 2018 was going to be the year that I would FINALLY learn to parle en francais. Er...learn how to speak in French.

French and I have a tumultuous relationship. We were on again and off again throughout high school and college. I watched Amelie (with subtitles). I ate macarons like nobody's business. But I still couldn't speak it.

Everything changed when I received a grant to go to France for a summer learning opportunity. I was surrounded by bilingual people, and all I could say in French was, "Where is the bathroom?" (Ou est la salle de bains, s'il vous plait, in case you were wondering). I returned with a seed planted in my mind that stayed dormant for the next six months. However, come January, it suddenly germinated into a creeping ivy that was slowly consuming my brain.

I Duolingo'ed. I read French websites. I even discovered that you can watch some children's cartoons in French on Netflix (My Little Pony sounds so much nicer en francais). I downloaded podcasts. I joined websites that paired you up with French pen pals and began exchanging emails with some native speakers. I discovered that there were adult language learning classes in my hometown.
Basically me.

56 days later, I still can't speak French. I get frustrated when I listen and still have no idea what the other person is saying (why hasn't someone invented the capability to project subtitles above our heads? Or where's the Universal Translator from Star Trek?). I get stuck and wonder if I should just give up when I confuse cheveux for chevaux for the zillionth time (hair and horses are two very different things when you're talking about cutting something).

I'm learning a new language, but I'm also learning patience, perseverance and consistency. So while it might be frustrating de temps en temps, I'm not giving up. Or, as the French say, bonne courage (keep going!).

So, next time I head to France, you'd better believe I'll still be able to ask where the bathroom is...but with a little more practice, maybe I'll have the confidence to strike up a conversation with someone else that doesn't involve bodily functions.


Wednesday, March 7, 2018

7/31: My First Class Pet

I've always wanted a classroom pet. I have fond memories of a guinea pig in elementary school, who I got to take home to babysit for a day. I remember my 7th grade science teacher's hissing cockroaches, which were simultaneously gross and intriguing. To me, a class pet was a sure sign that the teacher was awesome.

When I became a middle school English teacher, those memories stayed with me. However, my idyllic dreams of housing a live creature in my classroom were pushed aside in favor of the 95 other live creatures that populated my room each day: my students. Sure, I didn't have to feed and water them (most days), but they needed infinitely more attention. For the first seven years of my teaching, a classroom pet was simply not in the cards.

But I never stopped longing for one. As the years passed, I considered different options, but my sensible side always chimed in, pointing out reasons not to have a class pet. A beta fish? Who would take care of it on the weekends? A hamster? What if it died? Sea monkeys? Do those even count?

Everything changed on a summer afternoon visit to Lowe's. While my husband was busy looking at Adult Things like fertilizer and paint primer, I decided to pass the time by browsing through the "outdoor living area." Little did I know that this decision would lead me to my very first class pet.

As I wandered through the maze of patio umbrellas, brightly colored pillows and stepping stones with motivational sayings, a flash of bubblegum pink peeking out of a huge cardboard box in the corner caught my eye. Curious, I walked over to take a closer look. It was in this moment that I first met Floyd.

Floyd is categorized by Lowe's as a "plastic flamingo lawn ornament," but he's so much more than that. Floyd is silly. Floyd is whimsical. Floyd is very quiet and stays when told. Floyd requires no food, and the only aroma he exudes is a very slight plastic scent. He's unoffensive, quite handsome to behold, and, best of all, while he's not technically alive, he satisfies my desire for a class pet. Without a second thought (and without having to sign any adoption papers), Floyd went home with me that day

Today, Floyd sits on my bookshelf, guarding my books. I like to dress him up, and right now, he's sporting a single leopard-print glove from an abandoned FACS project as a "tail warmer" and a star-spangled scarf tied around his skinny neck. I smile when I see him because he's just so silly yet so right for my classroom.

So, if you find yourself longing for a class pet but think, "Gosh, those are way too much work," may I suggest a Floyd? Best $10 I've ever spent.

Floyd is stylish.



Tuesday, March 6, 2018

6/31: The GIF Whisperer


Every day, I make a new agenda screen for my 7th grade English class. Every day, I include the basics. What to do when you walk in the door. What supplies you need to grab. What we're going to be doing today (despite including this vital information, I still have approximately 3.2 students ask me this very question each day).

But I always include something a little extra. A GIF. If you're not familiar, a GIF is an animated picture that loops the same 2-3 seconds over and over again. They're tiny snapshots of funny moments: a dog looking particularly cute, a person totally biffing it on a bike, a snippet from a popular TV show. I then connect the GIF to our classroom in some way with a pithy little caption.

I'd like to say I include the GIFs for my students, but really, I get just as much pleasure out of finding the perfect one each day. Sometimes, they match what we're doing in class. For example, today, we're kicking off our argument unit by discussing next year's change to daily PE, a shift that has a lot of students up in arms. Therefore, today, my screen simply asked which GIF matched their opinion:

Or...

Some days, my GIFs match the day of the week:

Are you an Oscar, a Darryl, a Kevin, or a Meredith?

Other times, they serve as lighthearted reminders:
When you tell Ms. K that you forgot your book in your locker...
Sometimes, they sum up what everyone's thinking:
Current mood.

But no matter what I pick, my GIFs always bring a smile to my face...and hopefully, they do the same for my students. After all, we could always use a little more humor in our lives...especially at school.

Monday, March 5, 2018

5/31: Hand Over the Sprouts

And now, an ode to the unsung hero of vegetables.

Often vilified as inedible and named as the weapon wielded by particularly punitive parents bent on making their children miserable, brussels sprouts are one of those things that seem to unify people in mutual hatred. At best, their presence on the dinner table elicits thinly-veiled sighs of disappointment. At worst, they cause outright disgust.

Few want to give these leafy baby cabbages a chance. They call them "disgusting" and "smelly" and "hard to chew." They take one look at their intimidating whorls and layers and pronounce them as only fit for a garbage disposal.

Not me. When I see brussels sprouts, my mind goes places. To sweet chili sauce and soy sauce mixed together and smothered all over those roly-poly vegetables and roasted at 425 for 20 minutes until their outer leaves have that perfectly caramelized crunch.

To a squeeze of lemon juice and a splash of olive oil, a fine coating of garlic, salt and pepper.

To finely-shredded leaves combined with wheat pasta, spicy Italian sausage, parmesan cheese and red pepper flakes. Really, the possibilities are endless when you've got such a wonderfully tasty subject to work with.

So you can have your broccoli. I won't deny you your cauliflower, your kale or your asparagus. But as for me, I'll be over here munching on my brussels sprouts...and before you hide yours in your napkin or try to feed them to the family dog, hand 'em over. I'll eat yours too.


Sunday, March 4, 2018

4/31: One Rotten Apple Spoils the Bunch #sol18

I plug my iPad into my Macbook, crossing my fingers that, this time, it will work.

Click. Click. Click.

Nothing. Forehead meets keyboard. I take a deep breath and try another method. I have to get these videos off of my iPad and on to my computer. I take a look into the mystical "cloud" (what IS the cloud anyway? I'm starting to think it's just a nice idea and not a real thing). Outlook foggy. I don't see a thing. Well, scratch that. I do see a bunch of questionable selfies from 2013 (note to self: blonde isn't a good hair color), but I don't see the three videos I need.

I'm starting to think I have a rotten Apple. iCurse and iGroan and iFume. My Windows-loving husband raises his eyebrow in an "I told you so" manner as he watches me work. Click. Click. Click. I announce that I'm calling in reinforcements and pick up my iPhone (I'm nothing if not consistent in my bad choices) and dial the number for Apple Care. The automated voice kindly informs me that I can choose my hold music. I select classical. Maybe that will calm me down.

Warbly violins burble out of the phone's speaker. I still feel anxious. 5 minutes pass. Never one to have a lot of patience, I continue to clickclickclick in hopes that, this time, it will work. At 12 minutes on hold, I begin to feel despair. At 17, I'm desperate. Desperate enough to admit defeat and let my husband disconnect my iPad from its dysfunctional fruity brethren and plug it into his computer.

Unshockingly, he owns a Windows.

He sits down and grabs the mouse. Click. Click. Click. The three videos sit on the desktop, just like that.

Forehead meets palm. I sigh in relief. Just as I turn to thank him, the tinny concerto on my phone abruptly stops. "Thank you for calling Apple Care, how can I help you?"

I shake my head. It might be time for this fruitarian to diversify her technological diet.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

3/31: A Bi-Yearly Appointment #sol18

8:00 AM. I open the door, tell the receptionist my name and wait.

After a few minutes, I’m ushered back. I take a seat. Nervous. I lick my lips and shift in the chair. The assistant comes in. She hands me a pair of sunglasses and leans me back. “Open up,” she says. I smile big. Shiny metal implements. Minty cleaner. Thin string pulling and prodding. I wince in pain. Once every six months, just like clockwork. I’m always on time, but I’m never ready.

 “A little wider,” she prods. Spray of water. The snap of gloves. Chair leaning back up. I hold my breath and wait for the final proclamation. I run my tongue over my clean teeth. The receptionist eyes me, sizing me and my smile up. She thrusts a plastic bag brimming with toothpaste samples and floss into my arms and leaves me with these parting words:

“You need to floss more.”

Friday, March 2, 2018

2/31: The Unexpected Gift #sol18

I scurried down the hall, a list clutched in my hand with the names of the 50 kids who would be filling my room in approximately 10 minutes. I had donuts to hand out, chairs to rearrange, tables to wipe down...my mental list grew with every step.

I darted into the main office and handed the list to our attendance secretary, told her quickly about the Slice of Life challenge, and turned on my heel to head back to my classroom. As I passed by the staff mailboxes, my eyes immediately gravitated to my own box, which is usually empty. Today, however, it was stuffed to the brim with a very full manila envelope.

I paused. I knew I should keep moving, but curiosity overwhelmed me. The outside didn't give any clues. It just had two names on it: mine and Ashley's, the math teacher on our team. Glancing at the clock, I made a quick decision: I was going to open it. I pried open the silver prongs holding the envelope closed and slid out two tiny packages. As soon as I saw what they were, a huge smile took over my face. I knew exactly who had sent them.

For this entire school year, Tracey, a teacher at the 6th grade center in my district, has been harassing asking me and Ashley to come up with a good name for the bow tie business he's starting with his 6th grade students. We had a lot of failed ideas:

  • Knot Your Average Tie Company
  • Backstreet Bows
  • Beaus and Bows
None of them satisfied Tracey. As the months passed, he kept asking and I kept failing at coming up with a witty and clever business name. When February rolled around, I had pretty much given up. But, as with a lot of things, when you stop trying, it happens. At a teaching conference, as I doodled in my notebook while waiting for a session to begin, it hit me. I had Tracey's perfect name:

The Notorious TIE

Immediately, I emailed Tracey and Ashley my idea, and he loved it. Liz, my teaching partner who was attending the conference with me, suggested making the first word a pun, changing it to "The Knotorious TIE." It was a perfect fit. The pleasure of finally naming Tracey's company was enough, but a few weeks later, a package arrived in my teaching mailbox on one of the busiest mornings I've had in awhile. 

Inside, two bow ties sat nestled in adorable cardboard boxes. One was a gorgeous blue floral print, whimsical and quirky...just right for me. The other was a deep green with gold swirls parading across it, a perfect complement to Ashley.

I slid the bow tie out of its box, grinned at the personal note Tracey had included, and clipped it on right at the neckline of my T-shirt, where it contrasted jauntily with the gray fabric.

I took a deep breath, and hurried out of the office into the busy-ness of the day with two new accessories: my fabulous bow tie and a huge smile on my face.
Bonnie modeling Ashley's custom bow tie
My beautiful bow tie 




Thursday, March 1, 2018

1/31: Curiosity Soaks the Cat #sol18

My cat has a water problem.

And it's not a fear of water, like you might assume. After all, cats HATE water, right? Not mine. My cat is special.

Tiberius loves water. Like, loves it. A slowly dripping faucet will entertain him for minutes (which, if you have ever had a kitten, is a huge feat) as he tries to catch the drops in his mouth and with his paws. Because of this adorable but messy habit, my bathroom mirror is so dotted with water splotches that looks like it was used to film one of those dramatic face-washing commercials where a weirdly cheerful girl splashes water on her face haphazardly. 

Tiberius's obsession affects everyone. I can no longer shower alone. He will cry as I try to quickly shampoo my hair, begging to be let inside The Fascinating Cube of Water. When I finally turn off the faucet and open the door, he rushes inside to lick the shower floor, leaving his tiny wet paw prints across the bathroom tile.

When my husband closes the door to try to shave in peace and quiet, Tiberius paws at the door, begging to be a part of the fun. Toilets must have their seats down at all times. The few times I've forgotten have been...um...messy. Tiberius sees a toilet and thinks, "Oooh! A cat-sized pool!" 


And his addiction is only getting worse. Lately, he's started curling up in the bathroom sink so that he has easy access to his beloved drips. I cannot brush my teeth without bumping into his furry belly. If I try to move him, his plaintive and extremely heartbreaking mews make me stop. I've taken to using the kitchen sink. With my mouth full of sudsy toothpaste, I wonder to myself, Who owns who? 



Oh well. Good thing he's cute.

**My husband, Scott, named Tiberius after James Tiberius Kirk. He's a Trekkie. I had no say.