Monday, September 27, 2010

Scenes from Vermont

I'm back. We had a blast. Literally. Many of them, in fact, as Liz brought a whoopee cushion along. She forgot Scrabble and brought a whoopee cushion instead. You probably think it's childish, right, for four forty-something women in a ski house in Vermont to step on a whoopee cushion when things got too serious or quiet when we didn't want it to be, or sometimes just to laugh some more? In fact it was a riot. Unpretentious fun.

As far as I'm concerned, potty humor is the great equalizer. And bringing a whoopee cushion? Brilliant, Liz.

I'm already looking forward to next year.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

[Heart] Lunch Club with Amy

Cajun Pot Pies with andouille sausage and shrimp
Now that I'm back at school, lunch club is back in session. I am cooking a little more--but not as much as Amy yet. I brought her a quesadilla for lunch one day, and chili another--both basic dishes that are part of my repertoire. In return I've gotten two of her latest, restaurant-worthy culinary experiments.

Last week Amy shared an absolutely luscious corn and crab chowder, and yesterday I was happy to take my care-packaged lunch home where I could properly enjoy these Cajun pot pies (she package the filling separate from the puffed pastry bowls, of course) with an appropriate beverage. They were delicious: spicy, creamy comfort food in a perfect little package.

As teachers with twenty minute lunches, we don't get to go out to eat. Ever. And making your own lunch day after day gets old fast. Changing things up with a foodie friend makes things better. That's why I [heart] lunch club.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

My Challenge

Seems everywhere I turn, someone is criticizing education in America, and what we are doing wrong. Even Oprah, who values education, devoted an episode to the topic in her last season. Though she made it a point to praise the educators and schools where it is working--the implication is that in most places it is not. And in most cases, it is the educators who are being blamed for the failures. As you know, I am a teacher. So I take this personally. And I take considerable offense.

Several months ago a panel of politicians and students railed away on Meet the Press; students told stories that were patently absurd. Can it really be that a teacher regularly naps for entire class periods? And none of these children get the teacher next door? Or walk down to the office so that an administrator can rouse the sleepy teacher? Did anyone check on the veracity of this story? On the off chance they weren’t tall tales told by struggling students then by all means action should be taken. But what gets me is that any time someone tells a story, it is a variation on this theme: schools in America suck, teachers suck more. In fact, it is the fault of teachers that education sucks. Stories are taken as truth; educators aren’t given the benefit of a doubt because, as one of my colleagues likes to say, the concept of a teacher as a professional is gone. We are micromanaged, we are criticized, and we are blamed.

I challenge anyone who thinks teachers have it easy but get it all wrong to be a teacher. Go back to school, get your masters degree, and be a teacher. I dare you.

And I refer you to this opinion piece from the Hartford Courant, by Thomas Cangelosi, a reitred teacher, to read more.

Monday, September 20, 2010

[Heart] New England Lobstah

Summer does not want to quit this year. Even though many of us are back at work (ahem) and no longer able to enjoy these 80-degree days we continue to be blessed with, late September is one of New England's special gifts.

Another is Maine lobster, which I felt compelled to enjoy one last time this summer (despite the temps, fall is still in the air) the other night, and which I only needed to travel down the road to find at a restaurant whose name pays tribute to its source.

And while I would have loved to enjoy the company of Deanna and Jill, who both insist on going there when they are here from out of town, it was enough to have a lobster date without them. (Sorry, girls. I know you were jealous, but I had to text you and let you know! Should I not enjoy lobster because you both live far away?) Just me and this lobster roll, easy on the mayo, generous on the claw and tail. Dream date.

I enjoyed every bite...I [heart] lobster. I mean lobstah.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Weekend Getaway Ahead

Next weekend I am heading to Vermont for the annual family girls’ weekend at my cousin’s ski house. I am making chili, mushrooms for crostini, and maybe tortilla soup. Oh, and I sampled some crab dip at Costco today that I may have to go back and buy. (It was good enough for entertaining.) Anyway, plans are underway and we are all looking forward to the weekend and thinking about what to bring. Text messages are flying around.

Me to Donna and Kristina: I will bring the vodka this time.

D to me: Great. I will bring this lemonade soda thingy Linds bought that mixes well.

Me to D: Sounds delish. I’ll also bring tomato juice, etc. for bloodies.

D to me: I’m trying to think of a good app to bring.

Me to Kristina (ski house owner): Do you have Yahtzee and Scrabble up there?

K to me: No.

Me to K: Okay. I’ll bring Yahtzee. I’ll ask Liz to bring Scrabble. Do you need a good book to read?

Me to Liz: Will you bring Scrabble next weekend?

Liz to me: You wanna get your ass whooped?

Me to Liz: yeah right

I can’t wait!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

"Cuz I’m a wOman…”

My plan yesterday afternoon was to leave school right away—that is, as soon as contractually possible (2:25), rush home, change, go to the gym, stop at Costco and Stop and Shop and get home by 4. In other words, I was going to run around like a maniac, at break neck speed, so I could get home for Oprah. It is her final season, after all.

I have watched Oprah on and off for all of her 24 seasons. Sometimes she got on my nerves, but always I was in awe of her tremendous power and influence, and respected her decision to do good things, talk about difficult topics, and to use her celebrity to affect positive change. Like her book club.

Sure, I often make snarky comments about having read certain titles before Oprah picked them for her book club, but I’m a reader, so I tend to read what’s new and, in my estimation, what’s good. Okay, that makes me a book snob, too. I suppose I read things around the same time she does, and the lag time—for current titles—more than anything probably represents production time. Shows are recorded and edited before they air, and those O logos don’t appear magically on book jackets over night. I know that. And I appreciate that she has inspired people to read, and to read good books. No offense, but I don’t think there’s been a single genre book or any formulaic fiction (read: John Grisham) on her list. (I told you I’m a book snob!) Amen, sister. Anyway…

I didn’t manage to do everything I planned yesterday, and I actually didn’t make it home by 4, but later in the evening Deanna watched the first 15 minutes on TiVo and then called to fill me in on what I missed. During the forty five minutes I did watch, I managed to go through three Kleenex tissues. I imagine this season I’ll go through a lot more of them.

She has been a great companion on my couch and on the treadmill at my gym. She has been conversation fodder for my friends and me—as has her show. And I plan to watch as many episodes as possible, but maybe from the treadmill and not my couch. Or at least not my couch after the treadmill and a thousand errands.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Heat is On

Okay, when I said I was ready for the change of seasons, doing my part to usher in autumn with my own traditions, I in no way expected to come to school today and find the heat on in my classroom. Mainly because IT’S NOT COLD.

My plan is to try really hard not to complain this year, as every year, and attempt to focus on the positive. But it’s difficult when you start the day with the heat on in your room in September. Thank God the head custodian likes me. By second period things were looking up.

Until later in the day, when I had this discourse with a student:

When I called him over and asked him to measure 2 g of salt for me on our electronic balance, he says (with attitude), “What’s the point of this?”

I resist the urge to smack him—verbally, of course, with some barb. Cuz this is school? How does that work for you? I don’t remind him that I am the teacher and he is the student. Instead, I answer calmly, “so that I can be sure you know how to use the balances during lab.” (Which, incidentally, he did not.)

Without acknowledging my response or the sound pedagogy of the exercise, he changes the subject, and challenges me again. “I’m pretty sure it’s a scale,” he says.

Again, I don’t hit him, belittle him, or berate him although clearly he has an attitude problem and an issue with respect. It’s not until he walks away that I wonder if his parents are divorced; I wonder if he treats his mother like sh*t too. While he stands in front of me I show great restraint. “Um, no, it’s an electronic balance.”

He repeats again his assertion that I am wrong, “No, it’s a scale.”

I make him make eye contact with me. “It’s an electronic balance.”

He sees clip art of an old fashioned balance on his worksheet, points and says, “I’m pretty sure that’s a balance.”

“It is,” I say. “That’s why this one is an ELECTRONIC balance.”

At least the heat was off at that point. At least I had that.

Tomorrow I'll try again to stay positive all day.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Change of Seasons

I wasn’t expecting that this week my pool would reopen for the 80 degree days. I knew the season ended last Monday, but I could not do more on Labor Day than come in from the pool and shower and leave things as I had all summer: my towel over a chair, my bathing suit rinsed and drying on hangers in my shower, my pool chair resting in the hall to dry, my beach bag on the floor near my end table. All week long I went about my back-to-school business with summer vacation paraphernalia scattered about in limbo. Today it was time to move on.

So I woke up early this morning to get summer laundry done—bathing suits in one load, beach towels in another. I put my beach chairs in the basement, and went through my beach bag. (I can’t imagine what kind of stink that mozzarella string cheese stick would have created had I not found it among the used sani-wipes and the subscription cards that had fallen out of various magazines. Really, is there anything more annoying?) Everything is put away now. I have my first batch of chili on the stove, a bowl of apples on the table, and a football game on TV.

And so it goes: another change of seasons underway.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Adverb Pollution

I am back at school and back to editing people in my head as they speak. Students, colleagues, administrators. TV anchors, TV reporters. No one is immune—either to making errors, or to my internal correcting.

Two common mistakes I’ve been hearing about which I can no longer shut up are Literally and Hopefully.

Okay, folks. Literally is used when a phrase normally used as a figure of speech is used literally. If you are using a figure of speech but mean it literally, go for it. If not, please don’t.

If you say “literally, I was buried with emails,” I expect to find you in your office under a pile of printed emails.

If you say “my husband literally just made a mountain out of a mole hill!” well then I need to be able to drive by your house and see a big ass hill in your yard.

What you mean to say probably is “seriously,” or “I’m not kidding when I tell you… " Take: "I was literally two feet from the scene of the crime the day before.” As opposed to I was figuratively two feet away? Or is what you meant “believe it or not, I was 2 feet away the day before!”

“I was literally at school until 5 o’clock that night.” As opposed to figuratively at school till 5 o’clock?

Don’t use literally for emphasis. While we’re at it, don’t use seriously, or honestly, either. Using those would imply you typically are joking around or a big fat liar. Jill really hates the “I’m going to be honest with you” preface to a sentence. Seriously. (Ha. I make myself laugh.) I think what people mean there is “I’m going to be painfully honest with you [insert insult meant to sound caring here, like: don’t wear horizontal stripes]” or “I’m going to give you more information than you want or ever need: [insert TMI personal detail here].”

When in doubt, leave it out. Those personal details, and the adverbs, that is.

And Hopefully, my friends, is also an adverb. Meant to modify or describe a verb. Take: "She scratched her lottery ticket slowly and hopefully." It does not mean, "I hope," or "let’s hope." “Hopefully, the weather will improve for the weekend.” NO. “ I hope the weather improves this weekend.” YES. I don’t think I ever hear hopefully used correctly, although I never give up hope that I will.

Please stop Adverb Pollution! It’s killing me!

Monday, September 6, 2010


I survived my first week back at school and am enjoying a fantastic long weekend. The weather today is p e r f e c t, and as I sip my coffee in my house clear of clutter, humidity, the sound of overworked and ailing air conditioners, and summer project lists, I’m not actually anxious to get outside. I will get there eventually--today is the last day my pool is open, after all--but it’s the kind of day you can actually enjoy the weather while indoors. In fact, today reminds me of an early summer day, only my windows are open after months of closing out the humidity, not months of closing out the bitter cold. And today I don’t feel the promise of summer ahead, I feel the inevitably of autumn.

And, believe it or not, I’m okay with that.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Aha Moment

or Too Much Information, part 2
or Oh My Goodness! How'd That Happen?, part 3
or Slow and Steady Decline, part 4

I used to not understand why sleep aids are usually attached to Tylenol or Advil.  I suppose other than the fact the manufacturers wouldn't make as much money if they were selling only one product, why not just let people know that the Benadryl they have around for bee stings and allergic reactions is the PM part, and they can use it as effectively as an antihistamine as they can a sleep aid. No analgesic necessary.

I didn't understand until yesterday, that is.


As I tossed and turned in my oh-so-comfy bed I was aware of every cubic inch of my body. Two days back to school--after a summer of doing nothing--and my body felt it. Acutely. Every step I took on those terrible floors reverberated somewhere in my body. Every oppressively hot breath I took in found a cell to cry out in pain at night.

Seriously, I was a mess. As I stretched my left leg out, my right knee cracked. ( And those weren't the only sound effects going on every time I rolled over to try to get more comfortable.) My hips ached. My neck hurt. I was physically fatigued from head to toe and I was too aware of my aches and pains to give in to my sleepiness and, well, sleep.

So I say to the makers of Tylenol PM and Advil PM: I understand now. I'm sorry I doubted you.

PS We may become good friends as I readjust to being back at school.
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