Monday, August 31, 2009

Little Victories

The other day in my Biology classes, my lesson plans included discussing controlled experiments and identifying variables. (I know, exciting stuff!) In my first decade of teaching it was a struggle to get kids to tell the difference between the independent variable and the dependent variable. I was proud of developing a tool to help them in this quest and always begin the year telling kids “if you use 'To see if _____________ affects _____________,' format it will be easier to keep them straight. The first blank is the independent or manipulated variable, and the second is the dependent or responding variable. It comes in extra handy when writing lab reports. If you see the purpose statement as the question you are trying to answer, then the conclusion is the answer to that question, supported by data."

For example: To see if discounts affect shopping habits.
Independent variable: discounts; dependent variable: shopping habits.
Conclusion: Yes, discounts affect shopping habits because when Lord and Taylor has a sale and email coupons, Ms. K always goes shopping.

Well, for kids I use other examples, like to see if amount of sleep affects student performance, but you get the point.

At the end of the day, at the end of my first week of teaching, I found that all my students knew the difference, that even if I changed sentence structure to be tricky so that the independent variable was not found in the first half of the sentence, students identified them correctly. Not one student got one wrong. In any of my three sections of Biology! Can I tell you how happy I was? Beyond that, they know what a control is, and what constants are. They can discuss controlled experiments like it’s nobody business. I am thrilled.

The victory belongs to my colleagues, of course, who get these students before me, in freshman biology, or at the middle school. But it makes me happy nonetheless. I am hopeful that they’ll grow up to be scientifically literate adults. That they’ll be able to analyze and think critically and be savvy consumers. But right now it’s enough to be hopeful that we will have a good year.

Little victories first.


Yesterday, when I finished nesting—washing and spinning lettuce, taking stock of my freezer stock—I actually thought about not going out to the pool. I was tired after a weekend spent mostly crying, glued to the TV watching the memorial and funeral service for Ted Kennedy (Rest in Peace), and didn’t want to be bothered to get in my bathing suit and gear up for the pool. So I decided to rest on the couch and ignore the sun that was peeking through my windows after a weekend of mostly rain.

While I dozed, I even fantasized about fall, about getting apple cider plug-ins from Bath and Body, and pumpkin spice scented Yankee candles. Clearly, I had gotten over the assault of the Halloween aisle at CVS, and the idea of autumn had sprouted somewhere in my brain. And I do love fall, especially after a long summer.

Eventually I scolded myself for being so lazy. I mean, come on now, that is award-winning sloth to be too tired to sit by the pool. Or at least to get myself there. I reminded myself that time moves on and the seasons change, and soon enough I will be wishing for a sunny day by the pool. I need to enjoy every moment and make the most of every day, and dreaming about fall from my comfy couch was not the best use of my time.

Especially since there’s no rule about dreaming about fall while sitting by the pool.

Friday, August 28, 2009


Well, I made it through my first week of school unscathed. I started off on the right foot, gave myself plenty of time in the morning (more than I needed) every morning and didn’t hit snooze once all week. I got a little sun every day after school and finished that book I wanted to finish. And tomorrow it’s supposed to rain. I couldn’t be happier.

Yes, you read correctly. I, Queen of the Pool, am looking forward to the rain.

As much as I love the sun, I have never been one to unequivocally hate the rain. I find it soothing and can enjoy a good, steady rain sometimes. I plan to tomorrow.

A hurricane (maybe only a tropical storm at this point) is coming up the coast and is supposed to deliver some heavy rain tomorrow. This morning, as I sipped my coffee and watched my morning meteorologist talk about it, I got a little excited. I thought of how nice it will be not to feel like I have to hurry off somewhere, not to feel compelled to enjoy the sunshine by my pool. I won’t have to slather myself with lotion and make extra ice, and double check my bag for reading and writing materials. Instead, tomorrow I can listen to the raindrops on my skylight and have an extra cup of coffee, watch Food Network all day and read while I stay cozy under my microfiber throw blanket. It will be a nice change of pace.

Summer is not over and there will be more sun. But tomorrow I am going to take my cue from nature and stay inside.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Still Summer

Today the high temperature is predicted to be around 90 degrees, but the dew point has dropped to a more comfortable 62%, "slightly humid" on the scale used by my local news station of choice. Based on the date, and the weather, it is summer. Still. And so I have decided that although I am back to work, back at school as of yesterday preparing for the students' arrival on Thursday, August 27, I will still enjoy summer while it lasts. More importantly, I will make efforts not to let my job wheedle its way into every crevice of my life.

Yesterday I went to the pool for a couple of hours after school and will again today. I read in the late afternoon sun until I got hungry enough to make myself some Caprese salad for dinner. With msnbc in the background I read some more while I sipped some wine. Today I plan on sitting by the pool as well to read some more—my goal being to finish this book by the weekend so that I can attempt another one over the weekend, and get through another one or two by Labor Day.

I do believe it is part of the nature of the beast that is teaching that teachers rarely leave their jobs at work. (And if you do, you feel guilty.) There are papers (and lab reports) to correct, lesson plans that can be revamped, new images that can be downloaded and imported into PowerPoint presentations. But there is also my sanity to maintain, which requires a whole lot of balance for me.

Even when the season changes and I am no longer drawn to the pool like iron filings to a magnet, and instead can’t trade wool crepe fast enough for French terry after school, I will try to maintain balance this year. I will try to write often and read often, and complain less. Yes, there will be nights that I cannot put off lab reports any longer or that I am too tired to do anything but sit with my feet up on the coffee table staring at the TV like post-lobotomy Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, but I will try.

Because I’m not just a teacher. I’m so much more.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Poor Parenting

written 8/18

So far my complaint about excessive use of cell phones has centered on the Instant Gratification Generation. (Even though I admitted later to being dependent myself.) Today, it occurred to me, as I sat by the pool (of course) while a mom was talking a mile a minute on her cell—on her second call since arriving at the pool—and her six year old son stood neglected and seeking attention in the shallow end chanting, “sh*t, sh*t, sh*t,” that grown-ups use them too much too. That cell phones have contributed to the downfall of parenting.

Earlier this summer I started (but never finished) a post about how parents shouldn’t take it personally when a kid screws up. Rather than get defensive and take it as a personal affront when a teacher calls to recount an unacceptable event, they should take it for what it is: a reprimand for something the kid did that was wrong. We’re not necessarily calling to say your kid is spawn of the devil, ergo you are Satan. Rather, we’re calling to say your kid screwed up. But you know what? That’s what kids do. They screw up. They‘re trying to find their way and they’re looking for boundaries and I’m doing my part. So often the reaction of a parent says to me, Oh no you don’t! My kid is not a bad person and I am not a bad parent or a bad person. But now I wonder if maybe parents speak in defense of their children who were truly at fault and caught in the act because they failed them to begin with. Maybe it’s the least they can do to keep them out of trouble. Or consequences.

I’m thinking out loud here, not speaking in absolutes, but I wonder if maybe years of being ignored by parents (when, say, they were taking their first strokes across a pool and their moms or dads couldn’t be bothered to put on swim suits and put down their cell phones) led these kids to raising their voices, to misbehaving to have some attention paid to them. Today at least it was so clear to me that this poor boy wanted his mom to pay attention to him, and it took everything for me not to scream, "Get off your cell and in the water!"

I am sorry to say I have seen more poor parenting this summer than Hallmark moments, more parents walking the length of the pool deck rather than splashing along with their kids in swimmies, more empty threats of “one more time and we’re going home!,” than fair but stern discipline and interested involvement.

I know. Who am I? How dare I? I don’t know what it’s like because I’m not a parent. Right? Well I am an intelligent adult and a teacher and aunt and an observer of people who has collected a cache of What Not to Dos/How Not to Parent anecdotes.

Letting my six year old chant SH*T, which draws the attention of the lady with the nice tan reading her book and makes her head spin like Linda Blair in The Exorcist while I’m on the cell phone is one of them.

My Peaceful Place

By the Grace of God

please don't let me jinx myself...

I have been writing longhand, by the pool or sitting inside, jotting notes everywhere, and as much as it has been a good thing that I have continued to write, it has been frustrating not to be able to transcribe my notes into published posts or Word documents in the evening or first thing in the morning. And even though I knew that I'd really be without a computer for only a week, and maybe I was meant to take a break, it has been awful.

I have been stubborn, trying relentlessly to get my computer working again. I have been rebooting every day, every five minutes when I'm in the mood, never getting enough time to do the things people have recommended: defrag, delete photos, start in safe mode, go to HP Care Advisor, etc etc. I try and my computer freezes before I have a chance to do anything corrective. Or diagnostic even. But I keep rebooting, thinking maybe the problem will go away. (Was it Einstein who said insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different result? Yep. Well this week I have been certifiable.) I wondered if it was my wi-fi connection, or my remote mouse. And I thought maybe, if enough people know how devastating this has been, I'll create a powerful prayer circle of a sort with their sympathy and my computer will work again. Well Amen. I believe in miracles. Again. Thank you, God!

Please, please, please let this technology(-less) nightmare be over. And thank you, thank you, thank you to you all for putting that healing energy out there.

Now let me try to catch up on all those things I've been dying to tell you.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Technical Difficulties

I sat down to write this morning, and my computer kept freezing. I kept rebooting, but no luck. My laptop has been a bit temperamental since I got back from my trip, but today it looks like it bit the dust. Of course I'm hoping it's just in a mood, but I'm afraid it must have some sort of virus that is going to require attention that I can't give it until after I go back to school on the 24th of August. Just when I was on a roll...

Alas, this may be my last summer post (written from my sister's computer). Maybe it's a sign. Maybe I'm supposed not to write for a while, to take a break from everything....Although, in the words of Gloria Steinem, "Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don't feel I should be doing something else."

Please, though, just in case, check back often.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


I didn't always enjoy the luxury of having summers off. Believe it or not, I am no stranger to work. Hard, dirty, back breaking work. Of course I am fortunate that those jobs have been offset by some pretty cushy jobs as well--like working as a racquetball club receptionist during my senior year of high school and (my hands down favorite position) as a dental receptionist for my family dentist (and dear friend) during college summers.

Dr. Bauerle let me take breaks whenever I needed to “go to the bank” [read: smoke a cigarette] and whole days off to go to the beach if a banner day was forecast. I learned my love of words from him and our mutual friend, the dictionary, and gained confidence in my writing from him. He saved every letter I ever wrote to him and my other friends in the office—Mary B, Maureen, Janice, Colette. My musings made him laugh. He thought I was clever. In fact, I remember when once he told me he couldn’t understand why I was majoring in Biology. “You could be the Erma Bombeck of [your hometown]!” he said. If only I hadn’t thought then that what I wanted to do was find the cure for cancer, or understood what a daunting task that would be, I may have changed majors. After college, he kept me on as an honorary staff member so that I could continue to attend Christmas parties and summer get-togethers. From all accounts he still has my letters with him in Florida, where he and his wife retired. And I continue to have connections with The Bauerle Bunch as we call ourselves.

But long before I got to show up late and start answering phones when I was good and ready while surrounded by supportive friends, I was more practiced at the aforementioned hard labor.

The summer after 3rd grade I went to work on a broad leaf tobacco farm with my grandfather and sisters. It was my great aunt’s farm, and therefore didn’t seem obscenely cruel or illegal. I was 9. I worked there every summer until I turned 14, and could work for legal farm wage with my friends from town on a shade tobacco farm. So I did. And I loved it. I have fond memories of those summers, waiting for the grey bus to lumber down the street early in the morning, having to wash black, sticky tar off every hair on my arms in the afternoon, then napping in the one air conditioned room in our house. I also remember having money to pay for fried dough at the local firemen’s carnivals and admission tickets at Riverside (now Six Flags), and having Levi cords in every color when I went back to school.

Of course you already know about my days saying “Howdy Partner” in the Roy Rogers Drive Thru, but there was also a yet undisclosed summer I spent as a housekeeper at the local Howard Johnson’s with Jill. Only they called us chambermaids back then. “Tick tick tick [our keys would forewarn] Housekeeping!,” we’d say, feigning cheer, hoping that we wouldn’t key in on anyone, hoping against hope that at least one room would be untouched, that the flight attendant to whom the room was registered had fornicated with the pilot next door, so that we would have one less room to clean and finish with a spritz of bubble gum scented air freshener. (I swear. Bubble gum.) How we survived that summer I don’t remember. But think it had something to do with Haffenreffers at night.

More often than not, and until fairly recently, I worked two jobs at the same time. During high school summers I worked on tobacco during the day and at Roy Rogers at night. I worked as a Resident Director full time during full time graduate school, while working part time at Crate and Barrel. And I worked part time there when I was a text book editor, too. Then, when I began teaching, I waited tables at a seafood restaurant two nights a week and weekends. I took on more shifts during summer.

I clocked a lot of hours in all sorts of jobs before I took my first summer off at 35 and I appreciate every hour I spend by the pool these days, not working. In fact, I think I have earned them.


If you know me or have been following my blog, you know I like to travel and eat out (often). I use room service. I buy books in hardcover. I pay to have my nails done because they look nice and my eyebrows waxed because I cannot stand to pluck them myself. I love my shoes and handbags and shop at Lord and Taylor—although rarely pay full price for anything there. Still, by many people's accounts, I am a snob. Extravagant. A spendthrift.

Have a seat.

Years ago a colleague of mine reported that his vehicle set afire. He returned to his Jeep after being out to find the fire department dousing what remained of it. I know. How freaky is that? But God help me, after ascertaining that no one was in the vehicle when it was ablaze, the first thought that crossed my mind was I wonder if he had a full tank of gas. That would really piss me off.


God, how I hate to part with money and get no enjoyment or use from it! If it makes my taste buds dance, or feels good against my skin, looks pretty on my finger, I’ll spend the money gladly. (As long as the ring isn’t overpriced, being sold for three times its value at a suburban housewife jewelry party.) I’ll open my wallet because I will enjoy that meal, and I’ll wear that sweater and ring. I know that typically a tank of gas is useful, as it gets me around in my car, but it is especially painful for me to leave chunks of money at the pump. This, therefore, would qualify as one of my cheap pockets. Overpriced jewelry is another, I guess. But now I’m getting ahead of myself.

“Cheap pockets,” as Liz and Jimmy (sister and brother-in-law) call them, are those things for which we have trouble parting with money. For my brother-in-law it is ice. He hates to pay for ice, and he’s frankly somewhat obsessed with it—from making it in unconventional containers to packing coolers with it. I believe he knows precisely how many minutes it takes to chill a can of beer and a bottle of beer in a well-packed and well-iced cooler (they have different chilling times, he will tell you), which includes a combination of large blocks of ice (frozen in Rubbermaid containers) and cubes. If he can help it, he will never pay for those cubes. Even though it’s a pretty good bargain at less than 2 bucks for 10 pounds, he chooses to make trays of ice, even little Dixie cups of it, to complement the larger blocks of ice. He won’t pay for ice but has electric scissors.

Notice I did not make any claims that cheap pockets or spending patterns are logical.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Summer Harvest

I love this time of year, not just because I am on vacation and addicted to sitting by the pool, tanning and reading books. I love this time of year because despite all those fun things I keep in the fridge, I can live on cucumbers and tomatoes—both from my mother’s garden.

Before there was a Slow Food movement, before it was in fashion to be a part of it, there was my mother , Bogusia (her American friends call her Millie), feeding my family (and friends!) from the fruits of her labor—tomatoes, cucumbers, dill, green beans, squash, zucchini, onions, basil, parsley, chives, varieties of lettuce. Before my sisters and I became teenagers and got paid to work on other people’s farms [read: before we got an attitude], we used to help my mother with her garden, planted in part with seeds she brought with her from Poland in 1960. (Thereby also ahead of the heirloom curve.) Bugles and potato chips may have been in short supply, but I was never without a fresh sliced tomato (no mozzarella necessary, although awfully good) or a cucumber, peeled and cut in spears—4 or 6 depending on the size of the cuke—with a salt shaker close by. In the summer, mizeria, a cucumber salad made simply with coins of cucumber, salt, and sour cream is still a standard dinner side dish for me. Tonight, it was my main course.

What my mother doesn’t grow these days, she is—still, at 70—willing to pick at farms where such activity is encouraged (and sustains said farms). The two blueberry bushes in her yard are not enough for my parents’ blueberry consumption and her winter stock, so she finds pick-your-own places and goes with her friends. She does the same with strawberries. And raspberries. She bonds with her friends in the fields the way I do mine in the teachers’ lounge and restaurants. (And I guess the pool.) Moreover, she has friends with farms, bigger than her gardens (plural because she tends one at her house and one at my sister Mary's), who bring her samples of their treasures, sometimes by the bushel, so what she doesn’t grow she can barter, and fresh produce is never in short supply. And what is not eaten fresh is never wasted.

In the winter, I continue to savor her tomato soup (I know you miss it, Jill!) made from her summer bumper crop of tomatoes. Year round I complement sandwiches with something from a selection of endless jars of her pickles—delicious dills or butter and sugar. Honestly, nary a day passes when I am without something, some wonderful thing, that came from the earth and from my mother’s hands.

I'd trade my anchovy paste to keep it that way. (That's serious.)


I know there are those of you out there whose eyes widened thinking school supplies! while visions of the supply store ad (in which a dad skips through the aisles as he filled a cart) danced in your head. But I am ill-equipped to think about back-to-school, despite being assaulted by store displays on every end cap and ads in every medium. Beyond ill-equipped, I am unwilling to think about it. I mean really, who are the people who actually open the emails from LL Bean and Eddie Bauer in August and take advantage of their fall classics sales? It seems like I just got my cashmere sweaters out of the dry cleaner! When the dew point is 72 in New England and the weather forecast says hazy, hot and humid, who shops for turtlenecks and corduroys? (Come to think of it, who shops for corduroys and turtlenecks any time? Probably the teachers with whom I work who actually wear jumpers. Don’t get me started. But I digress.) I have no interest in “[being] the first to shop the new fall collection!” No, I want to delete those emails and sit by the pool. As soon as I finish here.

The staples to which I refer are refrigerator must-haves. A friend who knows I like to cook asked about the things I make, and the things I have on hand, and it occurred to me that as much as a well-stocked pantry—with pastas and grains, diced tomatoes, cans and cartons of broths and stocks—is key to a meal in a pinch, certain refrigerator items can not only elevate a meal but also create a plate start to finish as handily as it will create an image of you as a host that really has it together.

· cheeses—at least: a block of cheddar for cheese and crackers, Parmesan and/or Romano for grating and shaving, blue cheese crumbles, feta cheese crumbles, shredded mozzarella for pizzas, and fresh mozzarella

· other dairy—2% milk, half and half, sour cream, Greek yogurt, eggs

· meats—pepperoni and/or salami, prosciutto, pancetta, bacon

· condiments—mayonnaise (full fat), mustard (yellow and Dijon), ketchup, Soy sauce, terriyaki sauce, Soyaki (from Trader Joe’s), toasted sesame oil, chili oil, mango chutney, yellow Thai curry (also TJs), Worcestershire sauce, horseradish, hot sauce (feel a Bloody Mary coming up?), Sriracha, anchovy paste, tomato paste in tube, jarred pesto (yes, a condiment), sundried tomatoes, capers

· water—bottled and a pitcher

· limes

· lemons

· tomato juice (there we go)

· orange juice

· Prosecco

· olives

· pickles

· some sort of fruit (grapes usually, and not just the fermented kind)

· veggies including greens and lettuce for salads and whenever possible…arugula, which makes me very happy

Give me garlic and onion (which I always also have on hand) and I can get busy with that box of pasta or some thing from my freezer--chicken, pork tenderloin, raw shrimp, cooked shrimp, or that foil-wrapped baguette. I can write about my freezer on another day, though. The sun is shining and the pool beckons. There are no back-to-school ads there.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Home Sweet Home Again

Sometimes I think the best vacations are the ones you don’t mind coming home from. Sure, there is something to be said for the vacation you never want to end (if your funds are endless), that fantasy world you get to sample that makes the rest of your life a miserable and futile act of wanting, but I’m not sure that always does any long term good. Unless you’re Shirley Valentine. So I don’t mean to imply that the best vacations are not good vacations; it has nothing to do with having a bad time. I think, in fact, for it to qualify as such a vacation, one actually needs to have a good time, but then (still?) feel good about being home. It is a combination of having a great vacation, a few fun days away, and returning to reality that is a life from which you realize you really didn’t need a break.

As I have written, I had a great time in the PNW. I spent time with an old friend and got to visit two of my favorite cities. (Thanks again, Tam!) And even though I had a teary goodbye, I was happy to come home to this life of mine that wasn’t driving me crazy, to a life I see even more clearly is blessed. And again, there is no implication here that her life is chaos. I didn’t go visit a friend in a crack house and think thank god I can still get by on alcohol! Rather, I was happy to visit with a friend and see that she has a good life and to be a guest in that life for a few days. And it was okay to leave her in her element and return to my own.

It is nice to be home again. I hate to sound materialistic, but I like my things. I like to be around my things. My couch, my vases, my art. I like knowing where everything is. And not having to ask to use them. (Okay, now I sound like a control freak. I’m not. Although I do think I am particularly independent.) I like my life and my relaxed summer routine. I like writing in the morning before I do anything else. I did that today before I sat by my pool today and read. Then I came in late this afternoon to my chilly AC and made a plate of cheese and crackers to snack on as the lunch I missed while I was engrossed in reading. Today was a good day. Most of my days are.

Yesterday, as I made my way to the baggage carousel at Bradley International, a flight mate—walking beside me at that hurried, yet exhausted, pace of travelers who have made it home after a long day of travel—turned to me and said, “Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.”


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Soap Box

I am at the Seattle Tacoma Airport, with a couple hours ahead of me to wait and a harrowing experience just behind me.

For my last day in Seattle, Tamara and I headed downtown to Pike Place Market.

As I mentioned before, I love it there. With the vibrant flowers, fresh produce and flying fish (and check out those lobster tails!), it’s a bit like Quincy Market and the weekend Haymarket in Boston, but all rolled into one and a little more, every day. I love to people watch and window shop and take pictures, and Pike Place Market has it all to offer.

We started by strolling through the artisan stalls, and then went out to lunch to The Pink Door on Post Alley. We had a light, delicious lunch on a colorful deck—bright, mismatched table cloths and overflowing, hanging flower pots—overlooking the water, and enjoyed every bit of everything.

After lunch we made our way down to The Soap Box where I bought a bottle of Verbena lotion—apothecary style. I decided against the richest (A-D-E) lotion (too thick for summer) and went with a lighter version, better for summer, the season during which verbena is my scent of choice. We strolled some more, stopped for late afternoon drinks, and then my vacation was over. After a wonderful visit with Tamara and her family and friends—and with five books from Powell’s in Portland and my verbena lotion from Pike Place Market in Seattle—I was ready to head home.

Twenty minutes later I was at SeaTac saying a tearful goodbye. I checked my bag curbside and headed to security.

“Do you have lotion?” the TSA agent asks.

“Oh, no! …[string of expletives in my head as I tried not to cry] What a waste of money. I just bought it and forgot to put it in my checked bag.”

By the grace of God, and maybe because I wasn’t holding anyone up or because I didn’t have a quart size bag full of 3 ounce bottles already, he said, “We’re letting it through.”

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

So, that thing about amateurs who live under a rock? Maybe some people just forget, or make silly mistakes like I did…

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Pilgrimage to Powell's July 31, 2009

My favorite bookstore: Powell's Books in Portland, OR

literary bike racks
The Blue Room/Fiction

Blog Widget by LinkWithin