Wednesday, February 28, 2007

How did you spend your summer vacation?

Here is what I sent to a former professor in response to his questions. I sent him an email asking him to write me a letter of recommendation for grad school, but he didn't remember me--it's been 10 years and I was a run-of-the-mill B student who didn't do much to distinguish myself. He asked about what has happened since Valpo and, in the end, wrote me an amazing letter.

Valpo was the just the jumping off point for my interest in literature. I floundered so much during college about what I wanted to do and be that I didn't settle on an English major until late in the game and then knocked all the required courses off pretty quickly and graduated a semester early. After graduation two high school friends (really it was Kelly and Emily--neither of whom I went to school with, but both are from St. Louis and I know them through Young Life--but that seemed like to much detail to get into) and I decided we wanted to a)keep reading and b) learn to cook. So we started a dinner and book discussion night once a month. I don't think any of us had any notion of what a "bookgroup" was supposed to be or that other people did it (this was before Oprah made it hip!). So we read Tess of the D'Ubervilles, A Prayer for Owen Meany, The Catcher in the Rye, Wuthering Heights and a self-made list of books we felt any well-read person should have read already. We had a ball. I think I was both so self- and grade-conscious at Valpo that I didn't derive much true pleasure or organic intellectual stimulation from literature (I have vowed to give my children the option of waiting a few years between high school and college--I think I would have benefitted greatly). So, sitting around in barefeet on a back porch drinking cheap wine, eating burnt food and discussing "what Holden Caulfield's deal is" was like a miracle to me.

When we first moved to Hastings, where my husband is a Lutheran pastor, people were all worked up about Harry Potter. Should they let their kidsread it? Will they all become witches? So, I lead a four-week book discussion on the first book in theseries. I figured it was best to have the parents actually READ the book, discuss the issues, and make an informed decision. I, by the way, am eagerly awaiting both the final book this summer and the day my kids are old enough to read the series. I wanted to do the same thing with the "Left Behind" series that people are so crazy about but I found the first book so awful (both in literary and theological terms) that I couldn't go throughwith it. I now lead a book group made of a diverse group of women from our church (ranging in age from 24 to 65) where we discuss "secular" books with spiritual themes. Many of these women are not avid readers, or normally stick to the Mary Higgins Clark-type novels. So, it has been a fun challenge to get them to see how rewarding it can be to work through adifficult novel and to appreciate the value and artistry in a novel even when you don't particularly enjoy the book as entertainment per se or, relate to the characters/plot on a personal level. I suppose that's what I want to do in the classroom as well.

My interests really haven't changed much since college. The biggest difference in my outlook. At 19 I only had eyes for results. The point of high school was getting into a good college. The point of going to college was to get a good job. The point of a good job was...what? Wealth and prestige? Somewhere along the line I began to see the intrinsic value in simply DOING. I began to see that results are an afterthought to the journey. That first book group was not preparing us for something, or gaining us anything external but it was so worthwhile. I will never be a rockstar, but I've been studying guitar for the past five years; writing songs; performing around the state; winning songwriting contests; and am recording my first cd this spring. And the performing, winning and recording are icing on the cake. Simply playing the guitar is a joy and something I will continue to do even when the other aspects die away. I've been crocheting for a year and knitting for about two weeks. Just this morning I ripped apart a sweater I've been working on for my daughter because it doesn't fit her. Of course this was frustrating, but I told myself when I started crocheting that I was going to learn the craft. My point is to learn the craft well and failing and ripping projects apart is part of that and it's okay. I've found the joy in just trying things out just for the sake of trying. They don't have to turn into a career. They don't have to be lifelong hobbies. I don't have to become an expert. It doesn't have to result in anything, but I am better for doing it. Every year we have "Meatless July" at our house. Why? To see if we can do it and it's fun to try new recipes and visit different sections of the grocery store. Last summer the kids and I biked everywhere (two off training wheels and one on a pedal-behind-contraption) to see how little we could use the car. We saw our town in a whole new way. We knew which streets had too many cars parked to ride safely in the street. We knew the easiest intersections to cross. We knew who had the prettiest flowers (the house where the whole terrace between the sidewalk and street was entirely filled with marigolds).

I'm very excited to start grad school. I'm eager to learn, be a part of a learning community, start down a new path. I have a graduate assistant job lined up in the learning center where I'll help undergrad students with their papers and provide accommodation services to students with learning disabilities--and I'm just as excited about that as my coursework. It's scary to think about juggling classes, job and home life but I know that it will be good for my children to see me working hard toward a goal.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

too much drama for this mama

Yesterday the school nurse called. Okay, it was Paul's day off and we were watching the last available episode of the Sopranos on dvd and let the machine get it. Then it rang again and this time we listened and it was someone from the church office saying, "...they tried your phone and cell phone and then called here so..." So. We got nervous and called the school to get this ridiculous news: Moses had rocks in his ear. For Pete's sake. The nurse (who we--and especially Mo--are on close terms with after his head got split open at school last year resulting in seventeen stitches and semi consciousness) was able to get one rock out, but another remained that she simply could not reach with the tools in the school nurses office. I called the doctors office. We went right after school where he extricated a surprisingly large pebble from Mo's ear.

After dinner the boys were running around in the living room while I was cleaning up the waffle residue from the kitchen when Ollie started screaming. It's amazing that, with kids running around screaming all the time in this house, it is totally obvious when something is really wrong. I heard Ollie's "I'm really hurt and freaking out scream." I ran in to find a gash above his right eye and blood streaming down his face compliments of the corner of the toybox. I went into supernatural mommy calm; scooped him up; took him into the kitchen; got a paper towel to hold on his cut; and in my supernatural mommy calm voice asked Phoebe to please get a ziplock bag full of ice and for Moses to please bring me the phone and dial this number. Paul was birdwatching, but just a few blocks from home when I got him on the cell. We hemmed and hawed about stitches. The gash wasn't very long, but it was deep. We called a nurse friend who said "don't worry about it." Which we were glad to hear because I really didn't want to pay for stitches and lydocane and ER fees.

Today I had to go back to the doctor with Phoebe whose asthma has just gone nuts. Of course it has gone nuts because I let her prescription run out. We get it through the mail from our insurance company, which is cheaper and give us larger quantities than Walgreens, but it doesn't refill automatically so I have to keep track and then it takes like a week for a prescription to be processed and shipped. In the meantime she's wheezing and coughing and miserable and I feel like a jerk because I'm in charge of the meds. And then I start to wonder if, when I'm working and going to school full-time, will I still be in charge of all these things. Actually, it's less of a question and more of a "Oh, crap. Next year I will be working/going to school full time and I will still be in charge of all these things I can't get done when I'm a full-time homemaker.

We're doomed.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas

1. We are in a blizzard warning. Like everybody else in town I need to get to the grocery store to stock up on milk and bread...but really, I have NO milk OR bread.

2. I should have a package arriving from Amazon today. I spent a Christmas gift certificate--thank you, Allison & Jeff!--and have the following goodies coming my way:

Patty Griffin: Children Running Through
Nora Jones: Not Too Late
Lily Allen: Alright, Still
Stitch 'n Bitch: The Knitter's Handbook by Debbie Stoller

3. (And here we depart from the Christmas theme--though this was like a gift to all who were there--ha) I sang karaoke last night at the bowling alley bar. Dolly Parton's "9 to 5."

4. I have secured my second letter of recommendation for grad school. I emailed another professor who, bless his heart, did not remember me. I tried to make him remember me, but he could not. BUT, he said, "Why don't you tell me about who you are now?" He asked me all sorts of questions about myself. It was fun to have a moment of self-reflection. I wrote back an email/essay and he said he would write the letter and asked if he could read my email/essay to his senior thesis class. I couldn't believe his generosity. He would have been 100% within his rights to say (and most other people would have said), "I have no idea who you are. Sorry. Good luck." I will post what I sent him later.

5. I have been doing two things everyday: math & yoga. The math sucks. It sends me back to grade school when, out of carelessness or some sort of undiagnosed learning disability, I often wrote the wrong answer down for no reason. I go back and check my work. It is correct. Clearly I know the material. But for some unknown reason I have written something entirely different on the answer sheet--C instead of B. I did part of a practice test yesterday and according to the answer key I got 6 out of 15 wrong. But, when I went back and looked at the pages on which I had worked the problems out--I only missed 3. WHY? WHY IS THAT? And the standardized test people will not care what is on my scratch paper. Grrrr.

The yoga is good. I went to my class on Wednesday, taught by my beautiful friend Jen who is the yoga master. We did some killer stuff--the plank with one leg up--the side plank. I decided that should be my Lenten discipline: some sort of exercise every day. I dread the workout before it begins, but I enjoy yoga so much once I'm doing it.

6. Britney Spears? The shock of the bald head has worn off and now I just think, "poor kid."

Thursday, February 22, 2007

exquisite underpants

Today at Walmart, while searching in vain for new rain boots for the kiddos, I saw the most exquisite underpants. I laughed hysterically with ironic glee. It was a pair of boxers that said,

"Love means never having to say you're sorry."

Why?! Why?! Why?! Why was "Love Story" such a big deal with it's unlikeable characters, it's totally self-conscious "this is a MODERN love story, see? See how MODERN all this is?" style and that godawful catchphrase?!?

And why, oh, why would someone print that on a pair of underpants?

And no, I didn't buy them.

Friday, February 16, 2007

strange connections

There are two musical things Oliver is really into right now. I wanted to find him some new music to listen to that combined his loves. I think I did very well. He is stoked. He's the rockinest four-year-old I know, skipping all the ballads for "a cooler song." Here is the forumula I created.
Dr. Teeth & The Electric Mayhem




Thursday, February 15, 2007

Spoiling the Sopranos

Paul and I are currently watching the first half of the sixth and final season of The Sopranos on dvd. We've watched each season after its video release. For whatever reason their filming schedule has been nutty. They waited a couple years between the fifth and sixth season. Then they filmed half a season, which aired on HBO this fall. The second half of the sixth season and the end of the show will air this spring...I think. I don't really keep up. I just occasionally look and see if new discs are out.

So we've got the first disc in: Season 6: Part 1: Disc 1. As it's been a couple years since we've seen any of this we watch the little recap for each season. Then, with great excitement, we watch the first episode.

It all seemed strangely familliar to me. The opening scene shows Carmella and Adriana walking through the frame of a house being built. Paul was confused because the last we saw, Adriana got whacked. I said, "Yes, Aid's dead. Carm is just dreaming this. They are walking through the spec home she and her dad are building only he used subgrade wood and thinks he can bribe the building inspector, but the inspector he knows has retired so Carmella gets really mad...." Paul looks at me like he has never heard of any of this. I then realize that none of what I have just described has happened yet in the episode. So, I'm psychic now?

I make a couple more comments, spoiling the scenes which are about to take place. Finally I drive the nail in the coffin by saying, "Wait...wait...I thought Uncle Junior SHOT Tony! I thought he was all crazy with dementia and shot him and the last we saw Tony he's lying on the floor trying to call 911! Why wasn't that on the recap?!?"

And then Paul realized what was going on.


My parents have cable. I was visiting the week the first episode aired last fall. I watched it. I totally RUINED this GREAT episode he had been waiting two years to watch. I gave a way the killer ending about 10 minutes into the hour-long episode.


I'm lucky I didn't get whacked.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Nothings Spells Friendship Like F-L-U

Our weekend was a comedy of errors and I use "comedy" loosely...and perhaps I mean "bad juju" instead of "errors."

Thursday: Our beloved Friends Ben, Susan, Samuel and Jude come to visit and the washer breaks. Parishoner dies, meaning Paul will have to plan and do a funeral while our friends are here, on top of the already scheduled wedding.

Friday: Repair man "fixes" washer says it was "operator error", by which he means, "it was your fault, dummy." Oliver starts throwing up.

Saturday: I try to wash Oliver's bedding and whatnot, but the washer is not actually fixed. Leave message with repairman, but they won't call back until Monday, won't come out again until Tuesday even though I paid them $100 yesterday for a fix that didn't happen.

Sunday: Susan & I go to the laundry mat. Moses, Samuel and I start throwing up.

Monday: Paul sprains his ankle on the ice coming back from the funeral (on his day off, while friends are in town). Susan and Phoebe start throwing up. Ben goes to the laundry mat. Snow starts falling.

Tuesday: The morning flight out of Omaha is canceled. Ben feels nauseous. Our friends shakily drive off at noon hoping their evening flight will indeed fly out and they make a mental note never to visit the Dunbars again.

And I didn't even mention diarrhea.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Fit & Fits

1. We get to pick up our Honda Fit tomorrow. They called yesterday afternoon and we did a happy dance. Catholic Social Services showed up to haul away the couch in our garage so we're busy readying its nest. Maybe it's a lair not a nest. It's a garage anyway.

2. Yesterday I went to pick the kids up from school. Everyone came out except Mo. This is a reoccurring problem. Literally, everyone had come out of the building. I left all my other charges and went after my lost little lamb. When he saw me walk into the room he about crumpled onto the floor. He was so sad. He knows that if I have to come in and get him that he doesn't get to have a snack after school. Desperate times call for desperate measures. I just will not stand out in the cold with three other kids and wait 10 minutes for him. He had his coat on. He was holding two sweat shirts, his snow pants, his library book, and his zipped up backpack filled to the brim with who-knows-what. He cried and cried. By the time we got out of the (long deserted) building he was in a full fit. Screaming and yelling and mad.

After snack they went across the street to roller skate/skate board in the church parking lot because it was nice out. But in a span of 10 minutes everyone had come back to the house twice. Now, it's not a busy street and they are all very good about crossing it -- one of the older kids always goes with Ollie. They really do a good job, but the running back and forth and back and forth is not okay with me. So I said the next time they crossed back to our side they stayed there. Phoebe got mad at Ollie and came back over--somehow thinking my rule would not apply to her -- and had a total freak out when she found out she was wrong. A knock down drag out "you're so unfair!" fit.

Ollie came in and...well...I don't even remember what it was. He didn't get his way somehow and chucked whatever toy he was holding at me (a glow in the dark rubber lizard, I think). I remained calm and asked him to go to his room. At first he yelled "No!" and then he started in with some sort of goofy slo-mo notwalk. I finally chased him in there and he banged around and yelled for about ten minutes.

By the time Paul got home I was ready to BAIL. Thankfully, it was time for my big soup supper gig and I bolted. And when I got home everyone was delightful. I had to take a deep breath and be happy they were happy instead of saying, "Does anyone remember how terrible you were a couple hours ago? Because I do and I want restitution."

And we did have a nice evening. We played a round of Pass the Pigs and read a chapter of Prince Caspian. Good times.

big gig

I had a big gig tonight. I played the Relay for Life Kick-Off Soup Supper in the church basement. The audience? Eating soup and not paying attention. The pay? A bowl of chilli and a plate of brownies to take home. Not the gig-of-all-gigs, but I got to stand there with no children running around--well, not my own children and play and sing for an hour or so with no interruptions. It was nice.

100th Day Polka

Yesterday was the 100th day of school. Our elementary school makes a big deal out of it. Phoebe's class made a 100th Day of School snack mix. Everybody brought 100 of something. She brought Goldfish crackers. Mo's class made necklaces with 100 Fruit Loops on a string and paper hats covered in 100 stickers.

A couple weeks ago I went to Ollie's class (he goes to pre-school at the elementary school, so they are all in the same building, which is right across the street from our house--sweet!)to make vanilla ice cream for snack and I got to just hang out and help with activities. I'm a room mother for Phoebe's class so I get to be in there for all the holiday parties. Plus I chaperoned a field trip this fall. But I hadn't spent anytime in Mo's class.

So, I sent a note to his teacher asking if I could come in some afternoon to visit--preferably to help with something, rather than just sit and spy. She asked if I'd do a song for the 100th Day. This was right up my alley. I ended up writing my first composition solely for accordion: The 100th Day Polka. Any accordion polka is slightly annoying, but this one with it's silly words and simple melody for kindergartners gets stuck in your brain and polkas round and round until you want to scream. It was perfect for the occasion.

It was a really fun afternoon, but more than I bargained for. I ended up helping with a birthday celebration and then singing random songs and, basically, entertaining the kids while the teacher went to the bathroom and to the office. Which was great. A para educator came in when it was just me and the kids and couldn't figure out who I was or why I was leading the class. Then it was time for recess, so I went out to recess. Then it turned out the music teacher was absent with pink eye and there was no sub. So instead of teaching Mo's class the song and leaving (I imagined 20 minutes total, tops) I was there until school let out.

After recess we went down to the music room. I had Mo's class for their 25 minute music lesson. I taught them all about the accordion and taught them the 100th Day Polka. The only other kindergarten-appropriate accordion song I know is jingle bells. So we sang that too. They asked all kinds of questions and it was really fun ("where'd you get it?" on eBay "HEY! That's where I got my shotgun!"). Then, Mo's class left and I stayed and did the same thing with the other kindergarten class. I was the music sub.

I've never considered teaching elementary school. I have always said that, while I like my own kids, I've never really been a fan of little kids. But maybe that's not true. Yesterday made rethink it. It really was fun....exhausting, but fun. And doing music for Vacation Bible School is loads of fun. But that's all music and I can't really be a music teacher. I think one has to be able to read music to do that. Really, teaching a room full of six-year-olds is enjoyable. They're so enthusiastic and interested.

The idea of teaching high school English seems more appealing. Talking books with teenagers? Turning them onto the joys of literature and writing? Heck yeah.

But then I wondered: maybe it's too late to inspire them in high school. Maybe in teaching high school I'll miss that boat. Maybe by high school they've already made up their minds...or had them made up by proxy...but that's such a pessimistic view. Isn't that just an awful thought? I should be shamed. I had great teachers in high school who I really learned from and inspired by, but I was a pretty willing student (except math--sorry Mr Sharpe)...probably because I had great elementary school teachers. Is it the chicken or the egg, folks?