Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Tuesday Slice: Constant state of gratitude


"Grateful living is important in the world because in our constant pursuit of more and better we can easily lose sight of the riches that lay right in front of us and within us." --Guri Mehta 

"If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough." -- Meister Eckhart

At ten thirty last night, I struggled with my gratitude journal entries.  I had worked an eleven hour day, had sensory overload from the afterschool care kids filling the library (the choir was rehearsing in the cafeteria), and left my work to-do list mostly undone.  Exhausted, my home to-do list went undone, too, though I managed to iron my shirt and water the outdoor plants--small victories.

It's May, otherwise known as educator hell month.  Throw in an upcoming high school graduation and dealing with a major health insurance snafu, and you set the scene for my nightly carb overloading these days.

There is gratitude to be found in the midst of the chaos, however.

Coffee in a favorite mug.  Access to technology.  Support and helpful advice from friends.  The willpower to exercise when I'm feeling sluggish.  A body that works well enough to exercise.  The chance to start over again with healthier eating today.  Access to nourishing food.  Access to healthcare (no matter how frustrating the process to pay for it).  Hot showers and clean running water.  Indoor plumbing and a roof that doesn't leak.  My family's relatively good health.  

Steady jobs for the three working adults in our family.  Good college prospect for the last fledgling in our nest.  A career I love.  Colleagues who are out-of-this-world supportive.  Volunteers who show up--with a smile-- when we need them the most.  Chocolate at hand for a pick-me-up.  Unexpected gifts from students and teachers.

The list in neverending.  Yes, I could start writing out my problems, but something tells me I'd be in a sour mood doing so.  The to-do list is beckoning; time to start my day in a state of gratitude.    


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Tuesday Slice: Chocolate cake

I must bake a cake today--

Chocolate, 
Like the eyes that declare he is mine
The tan he gets from his father
The freckles from his Irish forebears.

I must bake a cake today

With whipped frosting,
Like the curls he sometimes curses
Blames me for their presence
Yet he bows to let me kiss them in passing.

I must bake a cake today

Sweet, with extra chips
Like his heart, empathetic to a fault
A sharp contrast to his practical mind
Still struggling with life's inconsistencies.

I must bake a cake today

With nineteen candles
One for each year of growing
And learning, and teaching us
How to live and love even more.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Tuesday Slice: In the not-so-merry month of May

May strikes both elation and fear in the hearts of educators and parents of students everywhere.

The countdown to the last day of school has begun.  Parties and field trips are being planned.  Marking the milestones of learning progress--look how far they've come since August!  The ultimate celebration of graduating from high schools and colleges.

These are big moments to celebrate, but before we get there, we encounter hurdles: standardized testing, advanced placement exams, portfolio completions.  Grades to enter, transcripts to finalize, deadline after deadline to meet.  As a librarian, I have summer reading and internet safety lessons, inventory and annual reports to complete, my self-evaluation, weeding, and the last minute hunt for missing books before students and staff leave.  While teachers are busy marching toward summer, parents are busy planning out summers to maximize family time and facilitate major transitions.  The fear of failure and missed deadlines looms large this month.

And let's not forget the fears of the students.  In my former life as a special education teacher, I had to prepare my students for a summer without structure.  For some, school was the safest place they knew; the break from campus was also a break from regular meals, caring touch, positive reinforcement and appropriate consequences for behavioral mistakes. 

Soon-to-be graduates of all levels harbor fears for their futures:  transitioning to new schools (oh, that leap to middle school!), the quasi-independence of college, the post-grad job hunt.  For high school seniors in particular, there's the push-pull of the need for independence battling with the realization of just how much support they've gotten from parents.  I see this in my own son on a daily basis; one minute it's "I can't wait to be gone", the next it's "College is scary."

I'm not sure what weighs more this month, the celebration or the anxiety.  My goal is to focus on the joy as much as possible...and pay close attention to the calendar. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Tuesday Slice: Earliest post ever

1:12 am
on a school night
up for the last three hours
waiting on a flight
that brings home my son

he will be exhausted
has texted
"Can I stay home today?"
how can I say no
sleep is important

except for this mom
who needs to go to work today
who napped 
on the couch after work
for three hours

hoping for two more
after the airport
after the "Glad you're home"
after we all collapse
under one roof again

before my day begins at 5:00 am


(yawn)

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Tuesday Slice: Love the learning

It's mid-April, which means one thing for Texas librarians:  Annual Conference.

The Texas Library Association puts on a massive conference each April.  Thousands of librarians from all over the state and all kinds of settings--school, public, and academic libraries--converge on one major city for days of meetings, workshops, breakfasts and lunches with authors, and shopping with vendors.

I am lucky that our district supports librarians, and supports our attendance of the TLA Annual Conference.  Last year, I spoke with a librarian who had been at her job for ten years and was attending for the very first time.  I'm only four years into this career, and this is my fifth TLA--I attended as a library science student, too, when it was held in Austin.  

I go the the annual conference for the learning.  Tomorrow is Tech Camp, where I'm hoping to pick up some new Google tricks and ways to use technology in the library.  Then I'm off to meet some Bluebonnet Nominee authors; I'll be sharing my notes from that session with my students.  Thursday brings workshops on information literacy, library programming, and time to peruse the immense vendor floor.  On Friday, I get to have breakfast with a teacher from my school who's attending for TLA Teacher Day, and we get to meet Mac Barnett!  More workshops follow, as well as the Bluebonnet Award luncheon and a 5K to top off the day.  Saturday opens with a breakfast with Kevin Henkes (!) and closes with a keynote by Chelsea Clinton.

My bags and snacks are packed, my sub plans almost ready to go. TLA, here I come!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Tuesday Slice: The good ol' days? No, thank you

Last week, a friend and colleague shared some medical news regarding her child.  An MRI had provided much needed--and extremely helpful--information regarding her child's struggles in learning to walk.  As a result, they now have options for treatment, and reasonable hope for improvement.

This news reminded me of the medical struggles of my firstborn.  When she arrived at twenty-six weeks gestation, surfactant was "shot" into her lungs to allow them to expand, and she was breathing without a ventilator within twenty-four hours.  I was told that had she been born three years earlier, that medicine would not have been available, and she probably wouldn't have survived.

MRIs, surfactant...medicine has come so far in the past sixty years.  Had my friend's child been born back then, she might have been institutionalized.  My child certainly would not have survived the day.

There's more than just medical advances to ponder, though.

Back in the "good ol' days", I wouldn't have had friends of many colors at school. My academic abilities might not have been nurtured, nor would I have been encouraged to go to college.  I certainly wouldn't have had roommates of different ethnicities, who introduced me to their cultures and taught me tolerance and opened my eyes to prejudice.  I wouldn't be working in schools that are microcosms of the diversity of our country.  My original teaching position wouldn't have existed, as students with special needs were not included and served in public education.  

I wouldn't have been able to sign my own lease on an apartment, or have a credit card in my own name.  When I married, I wouldn't have had access to the family planning options available now, especially the ones that have kept me alive, since I ran the risk of dying in childbirth.  I wouldn't get to openly acknowledge and support the same-sex relationships of friends and family.

Advances in pollution control, environmental safety, technology and communication affect my life in positive ways on a daily basis.  Even something as simple as smoking bans in public places make life better for us all.  The growing acceptance of our differences, in ways that increase love and diminish hate, make us better people.

I'll take the present over the good ol' days, thank you very much.  

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Tuesday Slice: I think I can, I know I can...help others

We had an author visit at our campus yesterday.  Carmen Oliver treated our kindergarteners and first graders to stories of her reading life as a child and the story she's published, Bears Make the Best Reading Buddies

The teachers and myself in the over-forty-demographic sighed as she spoke about her favorite childhood books--Dr Seuss, The Tawny Scrawny Lion, Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys, and The Little Engine That Could.

I hadn't thought about Watty Piper's classic train tale in quite awhile.  Listening to Carmen summarize the story and its message for the students, I was filled once again with that little engine's determination and optimism.  

Another thought occurred to me this morning.  That little engine had a clear purpose, an envisioned goal that served others in a worthy cause.  When we reference Piper's book, we often focus on the perseverance aspect, which I can certainly relate to after finishing the March Slice of Life Challenge and blogging everyday.  I thought I could, and now know that I can.  But maybe we need to focus on the act of service the engine performed.  It worked hard, not just for itself, but for the good of those in need. In the end, the engine celebrated not just its own accomplishment, but the completion of a task that brought happiness to a whole town.

I think that act of service might be the most important lesson in The Little Engine That Could. It would certainly make a better filibuster than Green Eggs and Ham--no offense meant to Dr Seuss, of course.

Friday, March 31, 2017

2017 SOLC Day 31: Tending the field

"Whatever we set our days to might be the least of what we do, if we do not also understand that something is waiting for us to make ground for it, something that lingers near us, something that loves, something that waits for the right ground to be made so it can make its full presence known."
--Clarissa Pinkola Estes, The Faithful Gardener

We've made it to the last day of the annual Slice of Life Challenge!  For thirty-one days, almost two hundred and fifty participants have been showing up and writing, supporting each other in the process.

I finished reading Estes' book, The Faithful Gardener, this morning.  Her final thoughts are on the lessons learned from her foster family:

"Through the lives we lived, I Iearned the harshest gift-lesson to accept, and the most powerful I know--that is, knowledge, an absolute certainty that life repeats itself, renews itself, no matter how many times it is stabbed, stripped to the bone, hurled to the ground, hurt, ridiculed, ignored, scorned, looked down upon, tortured, or made helpless."

There have been some hard stories shared in my fellow Slicers' posts, and joyous tales, too.  A lot can happen in thirty-one days.  Just by showing up each day, we've made space for what Estes calls "this faithful force", "that which can never die".  That force has shown through our words and our stories, even on the days when we had nothing to write, but wrote anyway.  

Thank you, fellow Slicers, for holding this space with me this March.  May our fields of words continue to grow into forests of stories, producing seeds to inspire our learning communities to do the same.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

2017 SOLC Day 30: I got nothin'

Source: CC0 Public Domain

Day thirty of this March blogging challenge, and I've hit the writing wall.  Every idea that flits through my mind gets summarily dismissed as mundane and deflated:
  • an ode to my morning coffee (seems silly to me this morning, don't feel like being silly)
  • the clutter I face at my desk (already written/ moaned about)
  • recent, important child event (not my story to tell)
  • the pain in my neck (blah, humbug, un-expandable)
  • my love of nail polish (beauty-blog-ish, not feeling it)
  • my personal quirks (just how much personal info do I want out in cyberspace?)
  • "Just the Way You Are", the Bruno Mars earworm that won't stop playing in my head this morning (already wrote about earworms in a previous SOLC)
  • library happenings (We had state testing this week, and my library schedule has been caddywhompus.  Testing is, frankly, boring, not to mention that we all signed oaths not to talk about the details.)
  • seasonal allergies (not exciting, would be a whiny post)
  • the ghost supposedly haunting our school (great topic, not a whole lot of details to write about)
So there you have it--a post about basically nothing. I'm hoping the writing Muse lands on my shoulder before tomorrow and whispers a fabulous topic in my ear, so that I can wrap up this challenge with a flourish! 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

2017 SOLC Day 29: New moon days

The clouds have been obscuring much of the sky since yesterday; the hours just before my alarm were punctuated with thunderclaps and lightning flashes.  My lunar phase stickers in my planner tell me there's no moon viewing to be had, anyway.  It's the week of the new moon.

New moon days are for taking stock of what is and planning for what we'd like to be.  I find myself taking a harder look at my home (cluttered), my finances (stretched), and my health (diet and exercise routine derailed).  I feel the urge to make changes; the challenge lies in making attainable goals with specific deadlines.  Both are hard for this Piscean dreamer, as I tend to overplan activities and underestimate the time it takes to get things done.

Paying attention to the lunar cycle seems to help, when I remember to look at those moon stickers.  There's something comforting in tapping into the monthly rhythm of planning (new moon), doing (waxing moon), celebrating completion (full moon), and resting (waning moon). My planner has space for doing end-of-month reviews and next-month planning, but tying that in with the new moon near the end of each month makes the process seem more holistic.

I believe women, in general, are drawn to cyclical patterns by virtue of our biology. Now that I am in my crone years, I can let the moon be my guide.
Image from Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

2017 SOLC Day 28: Time well spent

I knock on the door.  My white-mustachioed neighbor answers.  "Come on in!" 

"Actually, I was wondering if Becky would like to join me on my porch," I reply.

"She's working right now, but--" He gets interrupted by his wife.  "I'll be done soon.  Be there in a few minutes," Becky calls from her seat, momentarily pinned down by her laptop.

I head back to my house, catalogs and magazine in one hand, libation in the other.  The afternoon sun is beginning to strengthen, reaching farther into the recesses under the eaves.  Tiny flying insects of varying shapes flit about, and I'm thankful that for now, mosquitoes aren't among them. 

I'm a few pages into the first catalog when Becky joins me, her own beverage in hand.  She takes the other seat, and we proceed to get caught up on each other's day.  Talk of students, testing, the political climate--sticking mostly to climate, not politics--and future plans of travel and learning.  That's one of the many things I love about Becky--she is always learning, always reaching for that next new experience to broaden her horizons and her knowledge.  She glows when she talks about learning something new; that radiance doesn't just come from the knowledge itself, but from her appreciation for those who teach her.  A bit of that glow rubs off on me, after hearing her stories.

Porch time with Becky is always relaxing and refreshing. It is time well spent.  It is the stuff of memories.

"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." --Maya Angelou 

Monday, March 27, 2017

2017 SOLC Day 27: Different can be frustrating

Change in our routines can be jarring.  When we moved into Army barracks in Germany, I remember almost coming to tears one night when I wandered into my parents' bedroom in search of the bathroom.  In our old house, it was down the hall to the right of my bedroom; in the barracks, it was on the left. This morning, a change in routine might have rudely awakened my husband.

On Saturday night I was frustrated, my fingers crawling up and down the dial with the tiniest of movements on the wheel, attempting to find a radio station to awaken me in the morning.  No such luck; the receiver had given out.

Luckily, my husband had given me a new alarm clock several years ago when I thought the old one was dying.  Just when it seemed completely gone, a station would appear loud and strong, as if the machine was taunting me.  So the new clock had stayed in the box on the floor near my bed, until Saturday.  I plugged it in, read the instructions, and set the alarms.

I awoke unusually early on Sunday, and turned off the alarms so as not to wake my still-slumbering husband.  Turning the alarms completely off is easy; there are sliding buttons on the far left and right, and I know they are off when the lighted dots go out.

This morning I awoke to the alarms for the first time, and had a moment of panic when I realized the reset button is a bit harder to find in the dark.  It's tiny and located in the middle of the clock's top, so there were a few second of fumbling and feeling around before I figured it out.  I can only imagine what my husband was thinking, knowing his alarm goes off an hour and a half later than mine.  I will have to study the buttons tonight and imprint locations in my memory, or risk having a crabby spouse later!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

2017 SOLC Day 26: Root bound

The Meyer ferns on the back porch were in a sad state.  The fern in the eighteen inch container had never recovered from the frost; there was nothing left but the stubs of dead branches I had cut back a few weeks ago.  The other plant in a twenty-four inch pot had a half-dozen new green branches, but the dead stubs of several years' growth threatened to crowd out any newer shoots.

I decided to work on extricating the smaller, dead plant first.  I didn't want to just dump out the pot because I wanted to save some of the soil.  So I dug in with pruning shears and a trowel, cutting into the roots and pulling them out.

An hour and a half later, I was able to remove the heart of the plant.  It took me another hour to cut and pull the rest of the roots and their large nodules. The fern had been rootbound twice over; last summer, this container had replaced one which cracked open from the forceful underground growth.

I couldn't help but find a life lesson as I hacked away on this project for hours.  As important as it is to have roots, we cannot afford to become rootbound.  Old ways of thinking and doing can become as restrictive as old pots. Every once in awhile, it's good to examine our long-held beliefs and habits, see what fits and what's holding us back.  We need to give ourselves room to expand and change and grow.  

It may take some pruning, as I did with the other fern, cutting away the dead woody bits and half the root system and separating it into two new plants, with plenty of room for each to grow and spread with fresh new soil and fertilizer to feed them.  I left plenty of roots alone, of course, to continue feeding the new growth. We need to feel grounded enough to have the courage to reach for those new ideas and habits. 

Are you feeling rootbound?  If so, what can you do to change those feelings?  What things, beliefs, relationships, situations need to go, and what needs to stay?  I'll be thinking about those questions today.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

2017 SOLC Day 25: Light chatter

"Bioluminescence is the most widely used form of communication on the planet."--W.H. Beck, Glow: Animals with Their Own Night-Lights

I've read this sentence ten times this week, as part of my Book Nook time with our kindergarten classes. There are some weird and wonderful facts presented in this great nonfiction book, but the quote above is my favorite pause-and-comment point during the read-aloud.

Think about what this sentence means, I tell the students as I repeat the words.  

It means that that are more living creatures who use light to talk with each other than there are

people who use words
lions that roar
dogs that bark
cats that meow
crickets who chirp
birds who tweet

all the sounds that creatures make to communicate with each other.  

Light wins over sound, mostly because at least half of the living creatures on earth exist underwater.  I find these facts fascinating, leading to thoughts of the dark, silent depths of our oceans and the amazing creatures scientists are finding there.  I'm also looking forward to the return of the fireflies in our yard and park beyond.  

Bioluminescence--light chatter-- is the word of the week.


Friday, March 24, 2017

2017 SOLC Day 24: A dab here, a swoop there

My grandfather was an artist.  I remember seeing india-ink sketches of dogs on his wall; I can picture a stub of drawing charcoal in his hands.  He hadn't painted in years when I asked him for a picture for my college graduation; he obliged his only granddaughter with a pastel-yellow floral still life, one that I display every spring over the mantel. It was his last painting.

I have my mother's first and last paintings, too, the first a landscape, the last a still life in autumnal shades.  She didn't get to finish the latter herself; ALS weakened her limbs before the background was done.  A kind friend who attended the same painting classes finished it for her, only signing the back in case we wondered about the discrepancy in style.

High school art classes were challenging for me.  I gave my one and only oil painting, an abstract of a blown-up clock, to my brother.  Since then, my only forays into creative expression on canvas have been sessions at sip-and-paint franchises, following step-by-step exercises in the hopes of duplicating the instructor's picture.

I set a goal for myself this year to paint an original piece.  The universe must have heard my intentions, because within weeks I opened a Seton Cove flyer to find a class entitled "Painting for Well-Being".  My last two Thursday evenings have been spent in the Cove's beautiful cottage downtown, paintbrush in hand.  Our small group was led by Christiane, who gave us seemingly simple tasks to stoke our creativity and focus, and then allowed ample time to create, building on or even covering that which we painted first.

The two-hour sessions flew by quickly.  My usual end-of-workday tiredness slipped away as I focused on color and placement, texture and emotion.  I felt so much more relaxed on my drive home.  I think my grandfather's easel will be dusted off this summer, and I'll be visiting the art store for some fresh acrylic paints.

 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

2017 SOLC Day 23: Important item

I was asked once again to be the reader of the prompt for our fourth grade writing camp, and promised to use that same prompt for my next blog post.  My writing assignment this morning :  Think of an item that is important to you.

*****************
I received a very unexpected gift twenty-eight years ago, one that I thought I would never get from anyone. Many of my friends had received similar gifts, and their lives were much different than mine as a result.  Since I truly did not anticipate ever getting such a gift, I was content in enjoying their good fortune.

What's funny is that I picked out my own present, without knowing it.  My boyfriend had taken me shopping early in the fall.  We walked into a jewelry store, and he suggested that we look at the emerald jewelry section.  My favorite color has always been green, so I happily obliged, looking at necklaces and trying on rings.  We left without purchasing anything.

With Christmas around the corner, I thought I might receive a piece of emerald jewelry as a gift.  But Christmas came and went--no jewelry.  My early March birthday arrived--still no jewelry.  I put the thought of our window shopping out of my head.

St. Patrick's Day fell on a Friday that year.  It was also the last day of school before Spring Break, and my students had been a bit rowdy.  I was feeling grumpy by the time I got home and needed some time to decompress.  The phone rang almost as soon as I closed the front door, interrupting the quiet space I craved.  

My boyfriend was calling, telling me I needed to be ready to leave in an hour. He refused to answer questions about where we were going, which made me mad because I didn't know what to wear.  I finally settled on some white shorts and a green top--it was Saint Patrick's Day, after all.

He picked me up in his car and drove to Mount Bonnell, a scenic park in Austin overlooking Lake Travis.  We climbed the stairs and walked a bit along the path, not saying much because I was still ill-tempered from my school day.  Coming to a spot with a chair-sized boulder, he asked me to sit with him; I refused to sit on the rock, because I was wearing white shorts!  So I sat on his lap, and we looked at the water below for a few quiet moments.

Out of the blue, he prefaced his next question by stating my full name--first, middle, confirmation, and last--and ended with a marriage proposal.  I said yes without a thought, feeling the weight of the question after my reply. My boyfriend presented a beautiful emerald ring, and slipped it on my finger.  I was in a much better mood walking out of that park!

Years later, my husband told me that he almost didn't propose that day, because I was so grouchy.  I'm so glad he did!  My engagement ring is a very important item. I admire it every day, thankful for my husband's proposal and the wonderful life we have made together.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

2017 Day 22: Rude awakening

Soundly asleep, in need of even more
A dull ache pushes and pulls
Like a heavy wave begging to stay in the deep ocean
Being stretched thin toward shore against its will

It crawls up my neck
Deposits itself in the back of my skull
Unchanged as I roll my head, readjust pillows
Growing heavier and more insistent

The alarm goes off and is silenced quickly
Set again for twenty minutes
Thinking sleep, sleep must be the answer
There are no other reasons to have this pain

I cannot ignore the next alarm
This day must begin
Chores and coffee, reading and writing
Vigorous exercise replaced by gentle stretching

The ache has ebbed
Leaving traces behind my eyes
Like the heavy seaweed at the tide's edges
Reminder that the waves can return.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

2017 SOLC Day 21: Too little sleep, too much to do

Turning off the TV at night is one of the hardest "adulting" tasks for me.  I know I shouldn't even turn the TV on in the bedroom, but it helps me deal with the drudgery of folding towels.  

The good stuff on PBS always comes on late.  Last night I tuned in halfway through an "Arts in Context" episode called "Home", about artists exploring details of African diaspora (I had to look up the definition of "diaspora"--"The dispersion of any people from their original homeland.")  My drowsy eyes and ears were drawn to the photographs, poetry, and expressive interviews, not that I can recall more than a detail or two this morning.  

I was momentarily jolted by my husband's coming to bed, realizing it was beyond eleven o'clock, an hour past my preferred bedtime.  I clicked off the TV, took off my glasses, and hoped for a deep, if short, night's sleep.

I got up with the second alarm just before four thirty a.m.  Bathroom, scale, changing into workout clothes, making coffee and emptying the dishwasher all happened in order.  I read my three little "daily" books, got my coffee, and settled in to write this post.  

I'm anticipating that without a steady stream of caffeine and water today, I will hit a wall sometime around two p.m.  The majority of my classes will be done by then, thank goodness.  I will put the TV remote on my husband's nightstand, too--one less distraction before a decent bedtime...I hope.

Monday, March 20, 2017

2017 SOLC Day 20: Locavore learning

My son and I went on a field trip together yesterday, to a Sunday farmers' market down the road.  The morning was bright and beautiful as we drove past patches of bluebonnets and the welcome sight of a full lake by the dam.

We hadn't been to this market before; I usually go to the Saturday one just across the road from our neighborhood, in the mall parking lot.  But the teenager knew he'd be sleeping off a full Friday of amusement park fun on Saturday morning, so we hunted down a Sunday location from the list his AP Environmental Science teacher posted on her website.

The market was small, maybe twenty or so stalls.  We huddled in the middle of the walkway for a few minutes to go over the questions on his homework, and garnered the attention of one of the vendors in the process, who thought the assignment was interesting.

Some of the questions were easily answered by observation--list some fruits and vegetables and protein sources for sale, find several varieties of a specific produce, list something that seems missing.  

Other questions required interviewing the farmers. The first stand we visited had gorgeous tomatoes and broccoli.  We eavesdropped on a conversation with the shopper in front of us as the farmer explained how he'd been ripped off by a major grocery chain, who stopped buying from him as soon as they found out what seeds he used and employed cheaper labor south of the border to grow the same crops.  He brusquely, but in detail answered my son's questions about tending the soil.  We learned that he mixes it with hay, and plants clover to oxygenate the soil in winter.  Bugs are tended to with soap and water.

At another certified organic vendor, a young woman was eager to answer more homework questions.  She explained how the farm operated and the importance of the location.  Situated within 100 miles of our city means that the food is fresh, does not need extra treatment like waxing or chlorinating to extend shelf life, and cuts down on fuel required for transport--which is good for the environment, which in turn is good for the plants.  She encouraged my son to pursue organic agriculture, citing a dearth in young people studying that field.

The last blanks to fill had us speaking with a bison farmer.  We learned the difference between grass-fed and grass-finished.  The latter refers to the practice of fattening up beef just before slaughter by feeding them grains.  This does add weight, but also adds fat, which we pay for with our money and our waistlines.  She showed us a piece of bison meat, a rich red steak with very little fat, higher in protein and iron because it ate grass to the finish.

One of my goals for the year is to shop the farmers' markets more often, and the education I received yesterday encouraged that resolution.  I enjoyed learning alongside my son as much as I enjoyed munching on my purchases afterward.  Only produce this time, though now I am tempted to try bison...

Sunday, March 19, 2017

2017 SOLC Day 19: A table for four

The first to arrive, I mentioned to the young, friendly hostess.  I'm expecting three friends, and yes, a booth please.  

"How about this?" She gestured to a half-open booth directly in front of the door.  "That way your friends can find you easily."

The art teacher showed up not three minutes after, mini balloons and cards in hand and a smile crinkling a face that belied her elder status.  We settled in after a big hug, and a waitress appeared out of nowhere, asking us for our drink requests and inquiring about the balloons.

"It's a birthday table," we answered.  "We all have March birthdays."

We chatted for just a few minutes, showing pictures on our phones, before the English teacher arrived--with fresh eggs from her hens, of course.  More hugs, more photo sharing, and then the Spanish teacher, the freckle-faced baby of the bunch and the last to leave our campus-in-common, joined us.

What topics we covered during our visit!  Children and grandchildren and the cool things they do.  Retirement, campus changes, job woes and triumphs.  Cruising with girlfriends and losing the mommy guilt.  Preschool politics and the joys of working the baby room.  Overcrowded schools and district bonds. Tattoos and misjudging people by their looks.  Art and nude modeling for artists and small world moments.  Jaw surgery and recovery.  Ob-gyn visits, and those who train ob-gyns.  The absence of medical supplies in doctors' homes.  National politics, but only a comment or two since we all agree on that topic. Downsizing, the benefits of renting, selling homes, and changing states.  Books, and more art. 

Whether elicited by our own chatter or something more ephemeral, the four of us attract those with stories.  Both our waitress and manager had tales to tell, of fluffy feathered chickens, broken jaws and mama bear instincts, and the business history of several popular restaurants in Austin.  We soaked them all in as we consumed the fabulous food.

The conversation had continued an hour after we were done eating, the staff graciously refilling our water glasses without as much as a hint that the table was needed. Several bathroom trips made us realize just how long we had monopolized the space, and it was time to go.  I distributed my gifts of homemade shamrock cookies, and we hugged our goodbyes.

An elementary librarian, art teacher, high school English teacher, and Spanish teacher walked into a restaurant.  They walked out two and a half hours later, spirits filled with good food, good talk, and love.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

2017 SOLC Day 18: End of break blues

I could feel it coming on yesterday, like a train spotted in the distance while you stand on the track, feeling the rumble.  

The light rain in the morning changed my plans to walk and garden, so I spent time planning my day's activities.  Major cleaning projects needed to be tackled, as did chauffeuring of the teenager, grocery shopping, baking and cooking.

The teenager had to be dropped off at 830a. As we passed the grocery store on the way, I remarked that I should have planned better and brought my list, so I could shop on the way home.  My son commented that maybe I needed to use my brain power instead.  Taking that as a challenge, I did get groceries after dropping him off, and managed to remember everything I needed for today's menu.

It was still gray and misting when I got home to a quiet house.  After unpacking the groceries, I reheated my coffee and sat down to read for a bit.  I noticed my energy decreasing as my mind wandered from the pages to think about all the unfinished tasks I wanted to accomplish this spring break, and the things that absolutely, positively had to be done this weekend.  

The train had arrived; the end of spring break blues had hit me.

I thought making the cookie dough would cheer me up; baking is usually a meditative process for me.  The kitchen counter needed a good cleaning first, but I used my favorite scented cleaner, which brightened my mood a bit.  I gathered the ingredients and began creaming the sugar and shortening.  So far, so good...until I opened the nearly-full container of flour, and spotted little moving brown bits.  Crap!  Where did they come from?  My baking process was now interrupted by dumping the flour and thoroughly washing the container with hot, soapy water, so I could dry it and replace the flour with a fresh bag.  I got the dough made, but the spell was broken; the bad mood returned.  

Avoidance by napping is a go-to vice, and the couch beckoned.  A half-hour later, I awoke with the urge to go for a walk.  Gray skies accompanied me on the path, illustrating my mood.  I got home and started attacking my pile of shoes and the mess on my vanity.  I got some satisfaction from vacuuming hair balls, dust bunnies and cobwebs; once I detached the wand, I became a dust-seeking machine, even attempting to clean the bathroom ceiling vent.  

Taking a break, I remembered that I still had to call the insurance company to get financial details for my son's upcoming surgery.  For my forty-five minutes, I got the runaround instead; my mood worsened.

Shoes still littered our dressing area, but I realized the dough was chilled enough to bake.  I dove into rolling and cutting eighty shamrock cookies, watching the timer to turn the baking sheets every three and a half minutes.

My husband came home as I was halfway through icing the cookies.  The dressing area was still a mess, and I hadn't started dinner yet.  The end of spring break blues ...bah, humbug!

Friday, March 17, 2017

2017 SOLC Day 17: Irish much?

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!  My mother's full-blooded Irish family gives me a wee bit over half-Irish status myself, a heritage which fascinates me.  I am drawn to things Celtic--the lore, the land, the spirituality.


My husband recognized this early on, and honored that part of me by proposing on this day, twenty-nine years ago.  The emerald in my engagement ring is a beloved reminder of that wonderful moment.

Each one of my three tattoos has green coloring--a four leaf clover on one anke, triquetra knot on the other, and now the green owl perched on my shoulder.  No worries about getting pinched here!

Last night, I attended a "painting for relaxation" class.  The instructor had us start by painting a circle using cool colors, then spiraling that circle outwards.  I took her directions literally, so when I ran out of room to continue my spiral, I looped it up into another, and then another...and made a triad.  I stuck with the same colors as we applied a second layer. Turned on its side, it looks like a shamrock.
This morning, my teenager will look for gold (chocolate) coins left by Seamus the leprechaun.  I believe he's left forty of them lying about the living room.  Later, I'll be baking iced shamrock cookies and cooking colcannon--potatoes and cabbage--for dinner.  I'll also be raising a pint in honor of my dear mother and her Irish family.

Do you celebrate Saint Patrick's Day?  What are your favorite traditions?

Thursday, March 16, 2017

2017 SOLC Day 16: Mucking about

It was a beautiful morning for a walk, clear skies and cool temps, so we took advantage.

"Brushy Creek or Williamson County Trail?" I asked my still-sleepy son.  "Brushy Creek," he mumbled back, started to peel off his bedcovers.

An hour later, we were in the car. We hoped to start at the dam and walk eastward.  Pulling into the west-end parking lot, we spied barrier fencing, concrete mixers, and a construction crew.  The dam was still off limits.

We got back on the road and entered the parking lot at the center of the trail, deciding to head east from there.  I started my fitness app on my phone and my son checked his FitBit on his wrist. The birdsongs we heard through the crisp air became punctuated by the crunching of gravel underfoot.

This part of the trail was wide enough for four people across.  There was quite a bit of traffic; pedestrians and bikers of all ages passed us coming or going every few minutes.  Reaching a fork in the path, we decided to head to the right and cross a bridge to the side farthest from the main road.

A red bobber appeared as if by magic as we looked over the edge, ripples breaking the smooth surface of the creek.  We passed two young fishermen as we continued down the path.  

This route was bordered to the left by trees leading down to the creek; on the right were the backyards of the neighborhood in which my students live, some close to the path, others separated by swaths of silvery-beige wild grass. We chatted about the style of the houses, the wildflowers we encountered along the way, the sculpture-like beauty of dead trees tucked among budding branches.  
Out of curiosity, we left the path to climb a well-manicured berm to see what was on the other side--a storm reservoir, empty except for lush green freshly mowed grass.  Tiptoeing carefully over bluebonnets, we got back on the trail and walked until we came to a loop.  Continuing eastward was a thin, well-worn path.

"Do we take the loop and head back, or do you want to see what's down this trail?" I asked.  "We can always turn back, if we continue on."

"Let's see what's down the trail," my son answered.  

This path was one-person wide, so I forged ahead. Blue skies were replaced by a canopy of trees; the path was packed earth that quickly became strewn with rocks.  We dodged spider webs, stopped to look at rock ledges to our right, and realized we were getting closer and closer to the creek's edge.  We crossed a rivulet leading to the creek, stepping on wobbly stones, disturbing a crayfish hiding underneath. 

Packed earth turned to leaf-strewn muck.  We picked our way carefully, trying to avoid deeper patches.  At one point the creek's edge covered the path. Someone had placed an old plank over the mud, which sunk a bit as we walked its length.

Suddenly, the path came to an end, and the only way to move forward was to climb upward.  The rocky edge was rough, but slippery; my fingers sunk into a squishy puddle as I looked for a handhold. I managed to pull myself up, my son right behind me.

From the cool shade of the creekside trees, we emerged blinking in the bright sunlight over another immense, well-manicured field.  A few steps over the grass took us back to the gravelled path.  I gingerly pulled a tissue from my pocket to wipe away as much mud as possible, then handed it to my son to do the same. We spied a playground with a restroom facility in the distance, and decided to wash our hands before heading back.

As much fun as the muddy path had been, we took the gravelled, roadside trail the mile back to our parked car. The roar of cars rushing past seemed to insult the sounds of running water and birdsongs on our left.  My son, ever the spy for details, stopped to take pictures of an iridescent beetle on a retaining wall.

Our soles were dry and clean by the time we returned to our car, thirsty and thankful for our muddy, mucky creekside adventure together.