Last week school was really stressful. How stressful? Hmmm. Well, yesterday after school, after I finished running a couple of errands, I went to the McDonald's drive-thru and ordered a Big Mac and small fries. Yeah. But wait, there's more. I drove home, got in my pajamas (it was 4:30) and poured myself a giant vodka and ginger ale before I inhaled said Big Mac and fries. That stressful.
So this morning I was feeling pretty entitled to a day of doing nothing until it's time to get showered and boil the kielbasa for my first holiday party this evening. But when I stood at my kitchen counter grinding my Pike Place Roast, I made a deal with myself. I would NOT turn on my iPad and take my turns at all the Zynga games I play. I knew that would be a recipe for a day spent doing nothing other than that, and as much as I felt I had earned an unproductive Saturday, I knew there were other things I could do that would make me feel better, like get back to the funny book I am reading but that I hadn't picked up in more than a week. Yes, I know, reading isn't exactly productive either, but it is better for me than playing games. Definitely more enriching. And reading often inspires me to write. Case in point.
So, yay, me for making a good choice this morning, but now it's time to get some housecleaning done before I need to get ready for the party (that I hope will put me in the holiday spirit) so that I can think about decorating for Christmas myself tomorrow.
Just as soon as I take my turns in Words with Friends...
Right on the edge of the North End of Boston, after you cross over from Quincy Market and onto Cross Street, while deciding whether to head down Hanover or Salem, stop in DePasquale's Pasta Shoppe. You won't regret it. You may even drop me a thank you note after you enjoy a North End dinner in the comfort of your own home.
I can vouch for the shrimp and Grand Marnier ravioli, the lobster ravioli, the Maryland crab and shrimp ravioli, the mushroom ravioli, their sherry cream sauce (which works on all of the aforementioned seafood ravioli varieties), the bolognese sauce, and several of their fresh pastas.
Lobster ravioli with sherry cream sauce
Now I love the North End of Boston. In general, I [heart] all things North End. (see previous post) And maybe that's why I love DePasqaule's as much as I do. On a night when I'd rather be dining in one of the North End restaurants that uses their pastas, but am a hundred miles away, my DePasquale pasta brings me there. When I'm not in the mood to cook, and the most I can manage is dropping ravioli in boiling water and heating up some to-die-for sauce, life is good, and oh-so-tasty.
I'm not a Black Friday shopper. A good bargain gives me a thrill, as you know, but I have no interest in getting up in the middle of the night to fight people for a Magic Bullet. Scoring a pair of lined, wool dress pants marked down from $200 to $38 dollars (which, for those of you not good with math, is less than twenty percent of their original price) at L&T on a random afternoon, when I'm the only one there, is much more likely to bring on a ladywood moment (thanks, Jen Lancaster, for that word) than waiting in line for a Snuggie. I'd rather still be snuggled up my pajamas at noon on Black Friday, which I usually am at Dawn and Henry's, and was, in fact, two days ago.
The day after Thanksgiving, I like to relax. It's a day off from school that is not a holiday, and I like to do nothing that requires showering or strangers. First I help clean up the aftermath of our big family gathering--read: the things that didn't get put away after the cranberry vodka came out--(Lindsay and I were cleaning machines this year!) and then I make brunch for those of us who camped out overnight. After a quick, second clean up it's time to hang out. And Dawn and I did. Like we meant it. Long enough to get out leftover appetizers from the day before.
When I finally felt motivated to bust a move, it was NOT to go to the mall. It was to get dressed and drive home, so I could continue to hang out once I got back in my pajamas. Which I did.
Even on Saturday the sales didn't speak to me, but by one o'clock I admit I was feeling a tiny need to reintegrate myself into society and a greater urge to consume some beef. Since I could hear the wind howling as I prepared to get my burger on, I also decided that French onion soup would be my first course. So I headed out for soup and a burger and a visit with Shannon and Erika and there was nothing left I needed from Thanksgiving weekend.
Decades ago my brother-in-law Jim (who was not yet my brother-in-law at the time) dubbed this night, the night before Thanksgiving, "the biggest night of the year." During college and through our twenties, we would show up at our parents' houses for the weekend and, after quick hellos and laundry drops at home, converge to catch up and begin a long weekend "back home." We--our constantly changing circle of friends--might start out the evening at someone's house and then move on to Stella's (our favorite local place), or start at Stella's and then move on to someone's house, or another bar and then someone's house. The Stella's part was never in question.
I'm sure if I drove by Stella's tonight (if I weren't already in my new favorite pajamas) I would find cars, in typical "biggest night of the year" fashion, lining all the streets surrounding it. Inside I'd find the newest group of prodigal college students and twenty-somethings sharing the space with some local regulars in all seasons of life--drinking draft beer and waiting hours for Polish American pizza that was always worth the wait. I imagine some of my own classmates are there tonight as I write. I hope they are having fun.
Back then we'd all invariably stay out too late, and drink too much, and by the grace of God get home in one piece. The next day we'd spend Thanksgiving with our families, and still have three days of the weekend left to enjoy, and recover, and be back home, where we would always be welcome and have history. And there's nothing quite like that.
So tonight I am thankful for all my "biggest nights of the year," and grateful for all the people who were a part of them.
Yes, it’s that time of year again: the holidays. And this year they will be even more difficult than last. Who thought that could be possible, right? You will notice again that Donna isn’t here, but you will also notice that Cioc, the queen of Christmas, is gone and Stryjek is missing too.
Try this year not to cry as much as you did last year. Seriously. Because really, you give new meaning to ugly cry, and don’t photograph well to begin with. Try better to hide all the hurt. You won’t be the only one faking it.
Maybe more importantly, enjoy the company of those who are still here, and the traditions that live on. How fun that you sleep over Henry and Dawn’s on Thanksgiving and make breakfast for them the next day! And you have your Boston overnight with Amy to look forward to as well, and all that shopping for the perfect gifts you love to buy. There will be no time to wallow this holiday season, because the day after Christmas you leave for San Diego! You need to be packing bags and wrapping gifts this year, and you’ll be busy. But think of how nice it will be to spend a holiday with Jill. You haven’t in a long time. That Brandy Alexander will be exceptional.
So grab your gratitude journal, pull up your big girl panties, and enjoy the season. Feel the love. Spread joy. Make the most of the blessings.
I'm all for Nordstrom holding off on decorating for Christmas until after Thanksgiving, because they "like the idea of celebrating one holiday at a time." But I also think Crate & Barrel can do no wrong, and I could hardly contain my excitement when I saw this ornament hanging among the ornament displays the other day. (But I was alone, so I had to reign it in a bit... didn't want other shoppers to think I'm cuckoo.)
OMG: a miniature version of the iconic C&B shopping bag in Christmas red (made in Poland even) . I had to buy it. Even though it was only Election Day. It is all the reason I will need to put up a tree this year. (Don't worry, I'll wait until next month.)
This is it: Election Day. I have professional development today, which starts a little later than my regular school day, so I am happily drinking a second cup of coffee and tuned in to msnbc. Already. And I'm beginning to feel the first twangs of I wish I didn't't have to go to school today. I'd go vote right now and watch all day. But that's the plan for this afternoon and evening. Vote and watch. (The plan for my professional development day is to check my iPhone often.)
I get that not everyone is as into it as I am; "it" being watching the pundits and campaign speech clips and looking at projections and poll results. But I hope that you are as into voting as I am. It is so very American. It is your right. Exercise it.
The stars aligned for me today. With only 2 days left until the election, Democracy Plaza is up and running in NYC and msnbc is running their weekday line-up of shows today. On a Sunday! And because this was a bye week for the Patriots there was no game to watch, which meant no channel flipping was necessary. It was meant to be, right?
Just me, a new recipe for some white bean soup (which came out great and will be a delicious lunch for Amy and me tomorrow), my sweats and fuzzy socks, some cheese doodles (food of the gods), a slice of pizza from BigY, Black Box Cabernet, and msnbc. Sorry, Cris Collinsworth, today I'm hanging with David Gregory, Chuck Todd, Andrea Mitchell, Chris Matthews, Al Sharpton, Ed Schultz, Rachel Maddow...ever so comfortable, yet on the edge of my seat.
So one day I'm getting ready for a Peter Gabriel concert and then it's three weeks later without a single word from me. Not because I ran off with the band (how fun would that be?!), not because I've found the balance that has been eluding me, and not because I've spent a week of that time in the dark. (Thank God. My heart goes out to all who were affected by the hurricane.) I have no excuses really.
School has been stressful. Nights I spent unwinding--and sometimes getting worked up--with politics. (Thank goodness for free texting. I'm not sure Candyce and I could afford our almost nightly, rapid fire Arizona to Connecticut text conversations otherwise.) There are, of course, my Zynga games as well, an occasional happy hour with Amy, and Sunday football games, but nothing that should have kept me away for so long.
So thank you, Deanna, for your friendly nudge yesterday: No new posts lately. Otherwise occupied?...I'll try to make this No Excuses November.
As I sit this morning--after our first frost last night-- in sweats, with a blanket on my lap, hot cup of home brewed Starbucks nearby, enjoying the scent of my pumpkin spice candle, it seems the perfect time to get something off my chest. Last year, after a bizarre foot of snow in October, we barely had a winter. At all. Not a single snow day! And, well, I'm still a little frosted about it....
But something tells me, this mid-October morning, to let that anger go, because this year will be different.
The other day I was mentioning to my sister Liz that I wish I had kept a running list of concerts I’ve gone to in my life. We are both devoted list and journal keepers, but way back when it never occurred to us to start a list of concerts we’ve attended. I think I could name everyone I’ve seen—from AC/DC to Pearl Jam, Peter Frampton to Earth, Wind and Fire—but I know I’ve seen some performers/bands/artists multiple times. I’m just not sure how many. And although I probably have all the ticket stubs—some taped in journals, others in various memory boxes or old wallets—I don’t have a list to which I can refer. I would guess a hundred or so total, but I cannot assign for certain a number to the Peter Gabriel concert I am going to tomorrow night.
I can tell you I saw him about ten years ago—at the same, small venue—and it was one of my favorite shows. So I’m really, really looking forward to seeing him again tomorrow night. He’s one of my favorites. And while I would give anything to see John Cusack come out on stage with a boom box to begin “In Your Eyes” as he did at the Hollywood Bowl (I know, didn’t that just give you chills?) I will enjoy every song he performs from So on this tour of its 25th anniversary.
Yep. And that’s how long I’ve been going to concerts. And then some. But it has been a while since I’ve been to one.
Long enough that I needed to download a Zippo lighter app last night.
I'm not naive. I'm not a prude. And I'm not anti-kid, even though I'm a PWOK. I'm just an adult who chooses to sit at the bar for grown-up time.
So it's more than not wanting to have to give your a kid a compliment. Oh, how precious, Or precocious. My nieces and nephews know their way around a menu too and can politely order their meals with please and thank you--in the dining room. It's just that I don't want to eat my meal and sip my wine to the thump-thump of your kid banging his foot against the bar or to need to censor my language after a stressful (more often than not) day at work. Moreover, I feel for the parents who have paid for babysitters so they can have a grown-up night out and end up sitting near your kids instead.
So I'm not judging you or telling you how to raise your kids. Not really anyway.
I don't go to Chuck E Cheese and expect a quiet, peaceful evening. I don't go to Chuck E Cheese at all. I know that as an adult without kids to chaperone, it's not where I belong. I wish, then, that you would understand that your kids don't belong bellied up to the bar where one is required to be twenty-one to order a drink.
For those of you who know me personally, or who were reading four years ago, you already are aware I am a political junkie. I cried when Tim Russert died as if he were a personal friend (meaning I wept) and I love Chris Matthews as much as I loved Tim. Eugene Robinson? Michael Isikoff? Dream dates for a midlife prom. Rachel Maddow? C'mon, now! She's brilliant and she mixes a mean cocktail.
I read and a get a laugh daily from Elinor Lipman (fellow Simmons alumna, writing teacher and favorite author/hero) and her rhyming political tweets (200 of which are now available in paperback as Tweet Land of Liberty: Irreverent Rhymes from the Political Circus), and text with my friend Candyce (also a Simmons College alum, fellow political junkie and long time friend) multiple times a day.
When Brian Williams signs off at 6:59, I tune into msnbc. I watched the conventions, respond aloud to political ads the way people talk get worked up about football games, have the debates scheduled on my iCloud calendar, and will be glued to the TV on Election Day. After, of course, I get home from the polls.
So tonight just after I put down my cell phone (having signed off from a text conversation with Candyce during which we planned a FaceTime debrief on Thursday after the Wednesday night debate), when my house phone rang during The Chris Matthews Show I wasn't sure I wanted to answer. So I glanced up at my TV to check caller ID. I saw this: Quinnipiac University.
OMG!!! Me?! You want me to respond to your poll? Well, yeah, of course! I think I just died and that midlife prom got rescheduled to heaven!
I didn't say that to the pollster, of course. (Well, not all of that.) But I did answer each and every question truthfully, honestly, and proudly. Now I can't wait to see the next, latest Quinnipiac Poll results.
May as well hand over that sash and tiara, because it feels about the same.
Three weeks--to the day--after we buried my aunt Irene, I got a phone call early in the morning that my Uncle John had passed away overnight. Two weeks prior he had been given a prognosis of two months, but the day before he passed the hospice nurse estimated that he had only 24-36 hours left. Those of us who could, went. So fast, we all said. So much loss. Donna, Ciocia, now Stryjek. So devastating. I'm so glad I got to say goodbye, I thought.
Over the next several days as we mourned together and consoled each other, I talked about the couple of hours I was able to share with my uncle and members of my family the night before he passed. They were two of the saddest, most heartwrenching hours of my life: crying with his grandchildren, praying as my aunt told him it was okay to let go, seeing my Dad kiss his younger brother goodbye. "Dobra noc, Janek," he said. Goodnight, John. Yet I also knew there was something inherently blessed and wonderful about those hours, about being a part of a family that shares and loves one another so much. I try to to hold onto that as I go through my days lately, as I try to move forward and be positive in the face of all this loss and sadness. We have each other, I think. I have an amazing family. And then, Please let us be done. No one else. Please.
When I was in my twenties, and teaching wellness and balance to college students, I was much better at maintaining balance myself. But it seems these past few years I have gotten way out of whack. These days my wellness wheel couldn’t make it an inch down the street. There is nothing rounded or balanced about it most days.
So I’ve been giving that some thought lately, especially after starting back at school, at this job we are so privileged and honored to have (more on that in another post). And though not an epiphany of Oprah proportions, it occurred to me that PWOKS (People without Kids) like me probably have a harder time finding it. Balance, that is.
Parents have built in shut-off valves to get them away from their jobs and thinking about their jobs: their kids. And their kids' schedules. Without a daughter to pick up at piano lessons at 5 and dinner to get on the table by 6 so a son can make it to karate at 7 on time, it seems to me the stress of work can settle in and fill up the rest of your day.
And yes, I totally understand that parents would gladly give over their shuttling duties sometimes for a little peace and quiet and alone time….but my point is that alone time is not always peaceful for some PWOKs like me. And Amy. And Deanna.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to go and have myself a kid. And I’m probably not going to offer to pick your kids up from practice, but I am going to attempt a little more balance, to try to do a couple things not related to school—or Zynga or watching politics on TV—every day. (Resume writing? Definitely allowed.)
Early in the summer I decided to challenge myself to use my Crock Pot this summer--twice. I could make a recipe I know to be good, but one of them had to be something new.
I had heard a Food Network Star talk about the Crock Pot being an underused tool in the summer, and thought hmmm, that makes sense to me. Generally associated with roasts and comfort food, and relegated to fall and winter (guilty), it cooks without heating up the kitchen--a bonus in summer. And just as coming home to a roast dinner after school/work in the winter delights the senses, coming home to a meal after a day at the beach or the pool rocks. Right? Only thing between you and dinner is a shower. Maybe a fresh roll. No sweating over a stove or grill. Works for me.
Well, I got right on my self-imposed challenge and tried a new recipe. I made buffalo chicken and was happy with the results. So were Liz, Jim, Deanna, and Chris who all got a sample. (Unfortunately it didn't really photograph well.)
And then the summer got away from me. Fortunately, I am my mother's daughter and had a 3 pound shoulder roast in the freezer. (Get this: it was on sale for 1.99/pound, and had a $2 off sticker on it because it was the end of the sale week, so I only paid $4.63 for it!) Aware that I had not met my Crock Pot challenge and had only this weekend left to do so, I took the roast out to thaw earlier this week.
As I write, I'm less than eight hours away from a bbq pulled pork sandwich. So I'm off to the store for some fresh rolls and cole slaw and then headed to the pool with my hilarious book.
I had every intention of heading out to the pool after school today, but when I got in (after hearing other people's children (OPC) at the pool) and was faced with the choice of my super soft and cool tank jammie dress (read: modern house dress) and my spandex bathing suit that would be a challenge to put on yank up my sweaty body, I went with the tank dress.
I took a few deep breaths and made myself a snack and considered again going out to the pool. Then I remembered the sounds of OPC and the fact that's I have 3 days to enjoy the pool this weekend and I decided to stay in.
I read. I had another round of snacks and called it dinner. I napped on the couch. For an hour. With a blanket! And because already I'm yawning and ready for bed and it's not even 10, I know I made the right choice.
As some of you may know, summer was difficult—especially my last week of vacation. My aunt passed away after a sudden illness. (Rest in peace, Ciocia.) Her wake was Friday; her funeral was Saturday. On Sunday I felt like I got hit by a Mack truck. I could have used another week to recuperate, but alas another week was not to be had.
I started school on Monday. I spent the day in professional development sessions while trying to adjust to the idea of being back at school. I went home and hibernated/hid/avoided everything but Zynga. (See previous post about Zynga being the devil.)
On Tuesday I sweat like I was having hot flashes in hell. And by hell I mean fire and brimstone hell. (This time anyway.) I put up my bulletin boards and got textbooks out of bookshelves and got ready for the first day of kids. Early in the day it rained something fierce; when I left at 3 it was sunny and bright.
Tempted as I was to hide in my air-conditioned house when I got home, I decided instead to get in my bathing suit, grab my book and my beach chair (and maybe a cocktail) and go swimming and sunning instead.
I’m so glad I did. I went right underwater and my body temperature went back to normal. I read some of my book and laughed. Out loud. I enjoyed the surprising strength of the sun in the late afternoon hours, and went in for the day, for dinner, in a good mood.
I set out to make myself a salad, only to find my romaine lettuce had rotted.But I stayed in a good mood. I doctored (barely) a frozen pizza from Trader Joe’s (for whom my love continues to grow).
I went to bed in a good mood. I woke up in a good mood too.
I get it. I keep having to re-learn it, but I get it. It’s simple enough. I don’t know what clicked to get me there, but it did.
There are things that are not in our control, try as we may. People in our lives will get sick. Some may die before it seems fair. And there are times in our lives we are given moments we can control, time to spend as we choose. Our task is to choose wisely.
It used to be when the school year ended that I'd settle into a nice summer routine. I'd get up fairly early and check email, maybe pay a bill or two, over my first cup of coffee and move on to writing over my second. After blogging here and elsewhere, on a sunny day I'd make my way down to the pool. On a rainy day I might stay in and read, maybe tackle a project, or decide to go out for a grown-up lunch.
Not this summer.
I have been sleeping late most mornings, my snow day project list remains untouched, and I haven't written much here or elsewhere. It's August 9; my last post was July 24! And it was a photo post! (It's been so long I didn't know that Blogger has finally made it easier to post from my iPad.) I probably spend more time playing Words, Hanging and Scramble With Friends than reading and writing combined. (Zynga is the devil.)
I don't feel particularly refreshed or creative. Instead I'm feeling emotionally exhausted and nowhere near ready to talk about the s word yet, never mind think about going back there. And that I suppose is is the only thing that remains the same from summer to summer, no matter how I spend my vacation: not being ready to go back.
I try very hard not to harbor any hatred in my heart. Really. I know life is short--sometimes painfully, unfairly so. Therefore, I try to let go and let god, the whole nine...but it would be disingenuous to simply write a little "I [love] it, I [love] it not" note about today's topic.
Because really, I hate the person who thought Marco Polo would be a fun pool game, and would love to have a few words, and maybe a few minutes alone, with him or her.
In a crowded pool?
Where not everyone is playing? But still needs to endure the shrill, repetitive shouts of Marco, Polo while worrying about colliding with less-than-proficient underwater swimmers who are unable to see (even plus-sized) standing pool waders because--unlike the person who is IT and SHOULD keep their eyes closed but invariably cheats--they swim underwater with their eyes closed.
Nothing says relaxing afternoon at the pool like the repetitive screams of Marco, Polo by ill-behaved, strangers' children coupled with a ten year old swimming right into your spandex clad crotch.
Down with Marco Polo. And whoever thought of that game: I hate you. With every cell in my body that is trying to relax.
Amy just posted a link to my blog in a post about that Boston getaway I mentioned In my last post so I'm feeling like I should have a more recent, maybe more lengthy, post for her readers who might stop by. But, quite frankly, with no disrespect to A Couple in the Kitchen readers, this singleton is in the throes of housework--some that I have neglected, some preparations for Deanna's visit-- that I'd like to get done in time to go out this afternoon with Amy for Happy Hour.
You can understand my dilemma, no? Thanks for that.
PS As much as I love my iPad, it certainly has limitations--particularly in trying to blog on it. I couldn't get the link where I wanted it and I can't upload photos. Forgive me the oddly placed link to A Couple in the Kitchen and inability to post a photo.
Wow. I thought I'd start writing more once vacation started but this is only my first post. In my defense, I've been doing things--fun things-- since it started. It is vacation after all. I've been to the beach both weekends (different beaches) and I've been to Boston with Amy. I've been poolside with good books and out to dinner with good friends. In between I have gotten started on some house projects before too much time gets away from me (and before Deanna arrives next week to stay for a few days). I have been staying up later than normal and sleeping in when I can.
Meanwhile, my left knee has stopped hurting. I haven't had a migraine, nor have I felt my blood pressure surge. Not once in 11 days--even when the concierge didn't answer the phone.
When I drove away from school yesterday it turns out I did not screech my tires while blaring Led Zeppelin with my windows down. Instead, I drove away quietly with a "15 years of Teaching Service" stickpin in my purse.
After an early dinner out I came home and poured myself some cheap white wine and played iPad games. And even though I wanted to stay up later just because I could, I went to bed at 10, still thinking, Wow. Fifteen years.
I promise I'm almost done whining about school for a few months. Really. My last day with students was yesterday, but teachers have three more work days, so I'm feeling okay about one more post that tells it like it is and is therefore void of a whole lot of sunshine and sing-song.
A couple of weeks ago I hit that wall, when sleep was no longer restorative. I went to sleep tired; I woke up tired. I often woke up in the middle of the night and tossed and turned and worried about school things--finishing up curriculum, getting final exams ready, end-of-year evaluations. Weekends were no longer enough to refresh me for a few days. Amy and I started "going out" more often. The countdown seemed endless.
All the while (some) students continued to be a daily challenge, only now they were also distracted by prom and nice weather and wanting summer as much as the rest of us. Some days I felt like I did on the ill-planned occasion I was trying to walk from Kenmore Square back to Simmons when a Red Sox game let out and I was walking against swarm of people headed for the T.
That part is over now. The masses have gone. My finals are corrected and my grades have been submitted. Now the hard part will be the three professioanl develoment days we have left that will feel more like three days of teacher detention.
At 2:25 Wednesday afternoon I will do my best not to hoot and holler and screech my tires as I drive away...but I won't make any promises there.
Last weekend at my college reunion, when I settled into the cinderblock room for a couple of days, I looked around and thought Wow. I lived in this small space for four years?! I could never live in a small space like this again! What would I do with all my stuff? Furniture, cookware, all sorts of stuff. Twenty-five years worth of stuff.
Sometimes I feel like my life is an exercise in moving stuff. Every day I move stuff. From the grocery store to the car, and then into the house. Garbage, another kind of stuff, comes out of my house and into the trash. Sometimes stuff comes inside in bags, then goes out to the car gift wrapped, and then into someone else’s house. I can’t remember the last time I walked in the house with nothing; even if I don’t have purchases coming in with me, there is always a heavy tote bag or purse that comes with me…full of stuff. Stuff that I apparently have decided I should never be without: baby wipes (better than a Tide stick), lipstick in multiple shades, a couple of notebooks, some expired coupons. I go out to the pool with stuff; I come back with the same stuff.
It was difficult not to notice what was different on campus when I got to Simmons for my 25th college reunion (I'll spare you the math; that means I'm 47). After all, I parked in the new underground parking garage and picked up my regisitration materials in the new SOM (School of Management). But then, after I got over to Dix hall (after passing by the Merck building on the Emmanuel campus!) and saw the flat screen TV and felt the cool breeze of the air conditioning (so very welcome for those of us staying on campus who are having "tropical moments"...right, Ann?), I saw the green plastic covered mattress. And I was grounded. Indeed, I was at Simmons; not everything had changed.
As the weekend went on I noticed more differences, changes in the Simmons College/Fenway neighborhood that I don't typically visit on my fairly frequent weekends in Boston: Starbucks, a Panera, movie theaters, a couple of new restaurants, a Marshall's "coming soon" (!) all within walking distance of campus.
And yet, with all those wonderful Simmons' upgrades and expansions, and the recent (long overdue) revitalization of the neighborhood, what was so wonderfully familiar to me was the ability of all of us who were celebrating our reunion to connect--again for some, for the first time for others--and to stand tall in the common bond of our Simmons College education and find something else in common too, to feel our collective strength.
How nice it was not to be asked immediately upon making eye contact, "Are you married?" Rather, initial questions were more of the variety of what are you doing now? Are you still in nursing/PT/teaching/finance/human resources/event planning? Or are you local or did you have to travel to attend? Sometimes we didn't greet each other with questions at all but, maybe after a hug, with kind words related to memories of each other. It's so good to see you. I remember how nice/kind/funny/well spoken/outspoken you were. Eventually we might get around to talking about children and spouses, but the course of conversations reinforced what we had all learned about ourselves that has made all the difference in our lives--or at least mine. We are measured most meaningfully by our character, our strengths and our kindnesses, which we reflect in our actions and often in our careers.
Twenty five years later, I remain proud to be a Simmons woman.
Yesterday on my birthday, my niece Meredith sent me this collage depicting things I love--Frampton, Boston, Simmons College, reading, Newport, La Jolla, taking photos (that's even my camera!)--and images of things that connect us, that she and I share: we both love Next Food Network Star; we play Draw Something together. Every year since she was 3 or so we go on a pumpkin adventure, and also to the Big E. Most years I am lucky to spend time with her in Newport, where we also shared precious time with Donna. The chili, pasta fagioli, and bowties with broccoli are her favorite dishes of mine that I cook for her. The picture of Courtney Stodden with For rill? written across it? I'll let you click to the link and leave you to figure out on your own.
So thoughtful, so meaningful, so unexpected. In a nutshell, or collage, I suppose: Best Present Ever.
Imagine getting to the patisserie just as a batch of crispy, flaky, buttery croissants comes out of the oven. Only you aren't at a patisserie. You're not sure if there even is a patisserie within 30 miles of home. But no mind, you are at home.
What last night came out of the Trader Joe's package from the freezer as a nondescript frozen puck, this morning was a pillow of dough, ready for the oven.
You sip your coffee and wait. You smell butter. And pastry. Then, chocolate. Yes. Chocolate.
And then the timer goes off. You look. It is perfectly brown.
You plate. You wait.
And when you can't wait another minute, you bite in. Your glasses steam up and flaky crumbs fall like confetti and decorate the plate. The chocolate is revealed.
Your next bite is perfect: a little pastry, a little chocolate. So is the next.
You try not to moan. But you realize no one is there to hear you, so you give in. You pick up the stray flakes with your finger tip and eat those too. And then it is gone.
But there are more where they came from for another day. And life is good.
Only 18 days of school left with kids: 14 days of classes; 4 days of finals. (Then 3 teacher work days.)
Next Monday is Memorial Day (and my birthday). So only 3 more Monday mornings to wake up for school, and only 2 of those with students.
And then, finally, another (but never as well-deserved) summer vacation is here.
Just this morning at the grocery store a man turned to me at the deli counter and asked, "How did you get stuck shopping on Mother's Day?"
"Oh, I'm not a mom," I answered, "I'm going to see my mom later." And then, because I can't stand for people to feel uncomfortable, I added "but note to self, hu? Go grocery shopping on Mother's Day morning! No lines, plenty of parking..."
We both laughed and the moment passed.
I'm happy with the way I handled it, because just yesterday when I was out to lunch I heard a woman, another customer, reply to the friendly server who had wished her a Happy Mother's Day, "I'm not a mother. I don't have a mother."
Yeah. A little harsh.
I guess some of us who are of childbearing or child raising age are more sensitive than others.
Some of us have chosen not to have children ; some of us are not able to have children; some of us missed the opportunity due to timing and life circumstances. And, given the snarky response of the woman seated next to me yesterday, some of us are not at peace with it; others of us are.
To mothers everywhere: Happy Mother's Day! To those of us who are not mothers, I wish for you the dignity to breathe through any Mother's Day wishes (as Deanna did nine times on Friday) knowing the intention is kind.
So after Wednesday's dip into the depths of despair I knew I needed something--something beyond retail or restaurant therapy--STAT. Aha! That's it, I thought, I need to go buy myself a good book to bring to a restaurant--which is soooo different from just buying another purse or pair of shoes before going out to eat. If I needed something to occupy my mind (which clearly I did) and help me to escape (ditto), and maybe inspire me to write (wouldn't that be nice?) I needed to get myself to a bookstore.
Two books (one fiction, one non), some cool bookmarks (that I'll share with Liz), and a fleur de lis dish (for Amy) later, I headed onward for an early dinner. There I had the added benefit of conversation and a few laughs with S and E before I went home and holed up with my new books.
So far so good: the book, the escape, the bonus of inspiration.
Every morning when my alarm goes off I tell myself how many more times I have to wake up again before the respite of a weekend. Two more days, I told myself this morning. Two more days.
I know this is no way to live.
I’m not particularly confident that a day will come when this teaching gig gets easier: when I’m not having another task, form, meeting, or initiative thrown at me; when my colleagues and I stop being blamed for what’s wrong with education and are praised for our hard work instead. What a joy it would be to go back to how education used to be—when students were held accountable for doing their work and for behaving politely and respectfully, and parents were supportive in those efforts instead of thwarting them and making excuses for their kids. Oh, the good old days, when education was appreciated as a privilege. Earth to Joanne… Not gonna happen. I know.
My task then is to start putting my energy into finding that something else instead of lamenting about this (while fantasizing a mass exodus of good teachers who have had enough of all this blame and bullsh*t). Somewhere out there must be a job I would be excited to wake up for, no? Is that too much to ask for? Then how about this: I’ll settle for a job that doesn’t demoralize me.
Even if it means giving up shoes, handbags, happy hours, and gel nails.
During the last few weeks before vacation I seemed to be climbing out of a funk--slowly but surely, day by day. Then finally I was in sunny southern California and the last of the blahs disappeared with the morning marine layer. Life felt good again.
Once I got home I spent the first few days happy in the aftermath, looking at photos of palm trees, beautiful blue skies and the deep blue ocean...I posted some, I emailed others, and had a few printed to frame...
But now, with dreary weather in place, April showers unrelenting in May, I am trying with all my might not to sink again into that funk again, counting the days until my next vacation, looking for sunshine in the forecast.
Okay, I guess it wasn’t good to just drop I saved a kid’s life at the airport and leave it at that. But that post was about all that was good with my trip, not stressful. Anyway, here’s the story, in a post of its own.
I’m at baggage claim at the San Diego airport waiting for my bag to be catapulted onto the conveyor belt below. I’m not exaggerating there. The bags drop with a vengeance, and some bounce back up, sometimes almost off the belt. I assume someone was once hurt by a rogue bag and that explains the small Plexiglas partition and metal rail in front of that exact spot where the bags drop onto the belt and rebound.
Just to the right of said spot is where a mother, grandmother and 3 year old were standing. Or should I say that is where a mother and grandmother let their son/grandson stand, and then proceeded not to pay attention to him.
I’ll be frank and tell you I flipped them a look—which I hope conveyed Really?? You’re gonna let him stand there? Do you see those bags flying off?—but to no avail.
And the next thing I knew this little boy, who was wearing a shell necklace that went down to about his knees, was four feet down the conveyor, being dragged by his necklace that was caught on the wheel of a suitcase.
With my cat-like reflexes (go ahead and laugh, Jill and Jon did) I reached out and snapped the necklace, thereby detaching the boy from the suitcase and preventing his injury/death.
Yay, me right? Nope.
As soon as I released him he started crying and ran back to his mom, who said, “it’s okay, we’ll get you a new necklace,” as she flipped me a dirty look.
Aside from having to save a boy’s life at the airport in San Diego, while I waited for my bag to get catapulted onto the conveyor and Jill and Jon waited in the car, every moment of my vacation was perfect. Not once did I find myself wishing I were somewhere else. I was present, in the moment, happy and relaxed.
If I had to narrow down the top 10 moments/things I loved it most about my trip, it would be these (not in any particular order):
1. on time flights with free checked luggage (see previous post)
2. NO CANKLES!!
3. putting my feet in the Pacific Ocean (on more than one occasion) (without cankles!)
4. lunch at George’s on the Cove in La Jolla; dessert at La Valencia
5. fish tacos and a margarita (or two) upon arriving
6. cocktails in Coronado
7. lunch in Manhattan Beach with Jill, Lisa and Joanne
8. lunch in Redondo Beach, with Jill, Lisa and Joanne
9. spending time with everyone I was able to spend time with
10. being outside as much as possible, catching up on fresh air and sunshine
My spirit is restored. I plan to hold on to that for dear life until this school year ends.
I am finally in California. Those three and a half months without a vacation or a snow day culminated in three and a half weeks I wasn't, frankly, confident I'd survive. If ever I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, of telling my worst class (ever, not just this year) that they make me afraid for the future of America and happy that I never had children of my own, this is the year. These past few weeks I was one eye-roll and a sigh full of adolescent attitude away from screaming expletives and drooling bitter bile while waiting for an ambulance to take me away.
But that's behind me--3000 miles behind me. I'm in San Diego now where I'm enjoying every minute--and conversation and meal and cocktail and ray of sun and vista (photos to follow in future post) wondering how I might reinvent myself so that this becomes home...
A) My bags fly free. Which means I can bring more shoes than I should because I don't have to carry them from concourse A to Concourse B in a bag that I would have to try to jam in an overhead bin that clearly wouldn't fit.
And 2) what is more civilized than standing in numerical order? No shoulder-checking the person next to you so you can get on the plane first, even though you have an assigned friggin' seat. Think about the absurdity of that. Instead, you get in the order of your boarding pass and choose your seat like a civilized human being.
Strap in, listen to some corny jokes, and life is good.
No change fees, on-time departures and arrivals are just icing on the cake.
I get it. The rest of the world is not always on my schedule, and might not have any interest in working with me when, say, like today, I wanted to grab sushi for dinner on my way home from work. Getting home to do laundry was the goal for the evening; figuring out dinner before I got started was--I thought---a great idea.
Until 20 minutes was actually 40.
Did I mention I hate waiting?
Well, more than waiting, I hate being ignored while I am waiting.
As I said, I get that the world is not on my schedule. I also get that sh*t happens--especially /even in restaurants where I have first hand experience.
I was the server who said, "I am SO sorry. I forgot to put in the ticket. Can I get you a drink while you wait?" I acknowledged, took responsibility and apologized, tried to make better. I got good tips. And customers that wanted to be in my section. I did not ignore the customer standing there in a fuchsia sweater whom I told it would take twenty minutes, and who arrived then, but stood there another twenty minutes later.
Time is money, I often say, so my maki roll lunch special was not the bargain and good idea it promised to be. Instead, it was an (expensive) exercise in waiting, and frustration, and poor customer service.
Today I feel victorious. Making it through yesterday, the last work day of two (very) busy weeks feels liked feat. Waking up late this morning was my reward and lounging in my pajamas (still) feels a little decadent. You'd think this is the first time I've ever had a long weekend; it feels like a snow day and a long weekend all in one!
I'm off to Boston in a little while, will be back for Easter Sunday with my family, and then another (but only one) super busy week before I celebrate another victory. Only next weekend I will not be congratulating myself with a second home-brewed Starbucks Verona. Nope. Next week I'll be patting myself on the back with a fish taco, a margarita, California sunshine, and the breeze of the Pacific Ocean.
Last week, the third week of March, we had phenomenal weather. We had an average high temperature of 75 degrees, which left me happy to have gotten a pedicure the week before, and had colleagues envious when I wore open-toed shoes and cropped pants while their dogs were still hidden in shoes. (Meanwhile, in California, Jill was having a winter storm of cold, windy rain; and Tam was getting snow in Washington State. Bizarre.)
Anyway, we’re back to more seasonable temperatures in the 50s this week so I’m glad I took advantage of the fluke week and lived like it was May, windows and toes open, smiling back at the sun, brewing up some sweet tea vodka to toast to wonderful weather.
Beware the iPad, and Words with Friends (WWF), and Word Feud, and Draw Something, and 7 Little Words….because next thing you know you will be sitting across from your sister at a family get together taking your words turns, jonesing for that 100+ point word on WWF, hoping to set a new record on Draw Something, and staying up way past your bedtime most nights gaming (of all things).
And then suddenly you realize you haven’t posted on your blog for 10 days and you think maybe you have a problem, and you really should get around to writing that post…just as soon as you take your turns...
Nothing a against the Irish but I am not a fan of "boiled dinner." It's just so...anemic. The meat looks uncooked and everything tastes the same.
Although carrots, cabbage and potatoes were staples in my mom's Polish cooking, I didn't grow up eating corned beef and cabbage together that way. It's only been in the past few years that my mother has made it-- mostly because one brother-in-law is Irish, and the other one enjoys it for his birthday dinner. I avoid it.
Tam sent me a picture of her boiled dinner yesterday, and Jill of hers, but I just can't get on board. Sorry, girls.
As I sat in my local Mexican restaurant yesterday sipping a margarita and enjoying a quesadilla on a warm and sunny afternoon in March--in the middle of a beautiful, sunny week in March--I got a weird feeling of déjà vu. When I reached for my camera I knew it wasn't just that nervous system phenomenon. I had really been here, I thought.
So I pulled out my iPad and went through my blog archive and saw that, indeed, two years ago--almost to the very day, during another unseasonably warm-for-March week--I was sitting in the same seat, eating and drinking the same things, reveling in the promise of spring, enjoying the longer afternoons, and dreaming of San Diego.
Only this time Jose called me señora. Last time I was señorita. Darn President Effect.
Despite a comfortable bed and soft sheets, I find it harder these days to get a good night's sleep. By that I mean sleeping all the way through the night and waking up rested.
Too many nights lately I go to bed with a lot on my mind, so if I wake up in the middle of the night--because my over-40 bladder needs a break, or my neighbors make a racket when they get home late (read: drunk), or the wind is howling-- I have trouble getting back to sleep. The worry track in my head starts running and falling asleep again becomes a challenge.
So I love a night like last night when I slept through the night. I may not feel exactly well-rested (I think I'm still at a deficit) but I felt so very satisfied when I woke up and saw 7:22 on my alarm clock, and it was actually 8:22 already...but I stayed comfy just a little while longer because I [heart] my sleep.
Every morning while I sit with my coffee and slowly come to life I try to get something productive done. Whether it is creating a list of pressing things to do (which generally doesn't include any pressing--as I believe in dry cleaners) or writing a grocery list or journaling something as inane (or sad) as what I wear each day (don't judge me), it is nice to leave the house already having accomplished something. I suppose that way, even if school is an abysmal failure, I can still end the day knowing the day was not for naught.
This morning, as I updated my calendar on my iPad, only after taking my Words With Friends turns, I couldn't help but flip forward on my calendar--with all that attitude of a finger swipe on an iPad--and realize that six weeks from this morning I will be waking up in sunny San Diego...As I will six weeks from tomorrow, and the day after that, until I wake up in Los Angeles a couple of mornings after that.
I guess I'll go easy on myself then. All of those days simply being there will be count for accomplishing something, no?
On my fortieth birthday I would have gone out on a limb of vanity and said I looked 32 or 33. Okay, 35 tops. No one thought I looked my age, and that was, in part, how I had arrived at my look-like age estimate as mid to low 30s. That is to say I did not think people were just blowing sunshine up my ass; I agreed there was something still youthful about my face and appearance.
Now flash forward to me at 46. I've been looking through photos lately--some taken while in my thirties, others more recently--and I feel like I have more than caught up with my chronological years. In fact, in the last 5 years I feel like I've aged 10.
Earlier tonight I talked to Tamara and shared this observation with her. She agreed (quite enthusiastically) that this has been her experience as well: visibly aging in her forties--what feels like exponentially.
Hence The President Effect.
If it's not just me, but Tamara too (and others I won't mention until they admit it themselves), then maybe all those presidents we've seen age decades in a term or two have aged like that because we all just get to a time in our lives--job stress aside--in our mid-40s (Clinton was inaugurated at 46) or early 50s, when we start to look our ages. Any grace periods we had been given to defy the clock and look younger than we are come to a grinding halt and there's no fooling anyone anymore. Presidents just happen to get there in front of the cameras.
So that was my big aha moment today, my pearl of wisdom, my new theory. In fact, I think I just coined a new phrase, since I Googled it and nothing came up. Yep, pretty impressive since it's Friday and I've been in my pajamas since I got home...all while experiencing The President Effect.
Fat Tuesday is over and today begins lent. And that means another season of hearing pączki mispronounced and made plural when it already is (singular pączek, plural pączki) is done. Amen.
I get that some sounds are hard to translate from one language to another, but pączki is not pronounced poonch-key. There is an oo sound in Polish, but it’s not what ą sounds like. I also understand there aren’t a lot of Polish-speaking people out there, but we all know how to order fajitas, right? And quesadillas? Even lasagna for that matter.
While we’re at it, let me say that gołąbki are not golumpki. It sounds like [ɡɔ-wɔmpki] and it, too, is already plural. But now I’m asking a lot. Let’s get back to pączki.
If it’s too much to ask to pronounce them [pɔntʂhki] a perfectly acceptable alternative would be to call them Polish donuts. Just please don’t call them poonchki.
Just after the New Year began I started, in earnest, to imagine new possibilities for myself. I decided that I needed to stop acting and living as if this is all there is; this is all I can do. Not that my life is a bad one, but I had been feeling stuck. Dissatisfied and stuck.
This school year has been a particularly difficult year for me, and I have seriously questioned how much longer I can be a part of a profession that is so undervalued and disrespected. It is getting harder and harder to be a part of an institution where the onus for education is put on teachers, instead of shared with parents and students. Remaining a teacher to me feels a bit like being complicit in the unraveling of education, akin to what it would have been like to be in banking when they were selling bogus mortgages.
So I thought it was time to get serious about making a change. Or changes. I came up with a new writing plan, started doing affirmations and meditations again, and I set out to find some tools to help me. But until then, when the power of intention brings me that something else, what could I do to be happier now? Interestingly enough, I happened upon The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin (in Anthropologie of all places) when I was out with Jonathan and Amanda, and it spoke to me. "When the student is ready, the teacher appears,” right?
Well, I love it. I am learning some new things (e.g., the opposite of happiness is not depression; it is unhappiness), being reminded of others, and taking notes as I go—collecting little gems and mantras and notes to myself on a bright and sunny note card cum book mark. Act the way you want to feel. Tackle a nagging task. Don’t expect praise. Enjoy now. I just finished March. Can’t wait for April’s bits of wisdom.
Click on the link above or download a sample on your iPad or Kindle and I’m sure you’ll want to buy it as soon as you finish “Getting Started,” especially if you, like me, could use a little more happiness in your life-- without setting off for Italy, India, or Indonesia. Says Gretchen Rubin, “I didn’t want to reject my life. I wanted to change my life without changing my life, by finding more happiness in my own kitchen.”
I feel like this year has been a lesson in expectations. Perhaps it's more accurate to say it has been a series of lessons in not having any.
Expect snow in the winter--because you live in New England--and you'll get a whole lot of days with temperatures in the fifties and occasional rain. But don't rule out getting twenty inches in October.
Expect a February vacation when you've had them for fifteen years, and you'll get a single day off instead.
Expect to enjoy that day as a day of peace and quiet to do some housecleaning and lots of reading, and instead you'll clean to the sounds of construction in the unit below.
Lloyd Dobler (in Say Anything, an all-time favorite movie) said "if you start out depressed everything's kind of a pleasant surprise." I guess something similar can be said for expectations-- if you start out without any, you won't be disappointed.
Great, I thought. My last period class (the one I had after I ate said yummy lunch) is probably on Facebook calling me Dragon Breath, starting a page Slay the Dragon, photoshopping my last yearbook photo so that I have flames coming out of my mouth. Or I'd become a character in someone's anime project.
Why couldn't a colleague be as honest as my mom? It's not as if I don't have 3 packs of gum in my desk on the ready, and another couple on purse. Wait, scratch that. My mother has also told me I need to go on a diet and other such stuff that--albeit true--I wouldn't want to hear on a daily basis. Especially if not from her.
A little while later I took my bad breath and a beautiful salmon filet that my mother gave me (that I planned to eat for dinner with spinach--and more garlic) home, grateful for my mother's honesty and generosity. I was also grateful for Amy's generosity and the delicious soup that held me until dinner.
And frankly, the moment passed. I was no longer concerned about what my students think of my breath.
Few things in life become household names, the standard bearers that automatically capitalize when you type in Word, forgetting that they are actually trademarked brands: Kleenex, Xerox, Band-Aid. Yet I've used other tissues, copiers, and bandages. Without incident. But Sharpies? Is there really another option?
Nope. Not in my book. No friggin' way. Imitations need not apply.
I did not “just show up for four years” to earn my tenure. I imagine that the principal who evaluated my teaching for those four years, and provided feedback and support, and assigned mentors for me in my beginning years of teaching while I completed the state of Connecticut’s BEST(Beginning Educator Support and Training) program, would be as insulted as I am to hear you summarily demean what a teacher does to earn tenure.
I know you weren’t governor yet when the BEST program was around and new teachers all had to complete elaborate portfolios (which were similar to ones we all completed in graduate school to earn our Masters degrees and become certified to teach to begin with) and videos of ourselves in our classrooms—does any of that ring a bell?—but I know you have staff. And records. In fact you have a whole Department of Education that keeps records of our college and graduate school transcripts and certifications (which are tiered, by the way: initial, provisional, professional) and continuing education credits that we earn in professional development provided by our school districts. That is, you have access to the truth.
But shame on me for expecting you to do the homework rather than simply join in the blame game and blame the teacher. After fifteen years of teaching high school I know the type.
At this point in this rather bizarre "winter," with no snow days in sight and no February vacation on the horizon, I am ever so grateful that I have plans-- and plane tickets--to be in sunny California in April (where Jill still insists I should move). I'm flying into San Diego to spend the first few days with her, then I will move on to Los Angeles, to spend a few days with my cousins Lisa and Joanne and their families and will fly home from there.
Between now and then I have nine weeks to get through. Some of that time I'll spend doing not-so-pleasant things--like correcting lab reports, maybe dealing with another lunatic parent (more on that in my memoir, or maybe a future post), getting blood drawn and going to a doctor's appointment--but I know I will have some fun along the way, too. I have been reading three really good books (at the same time!...so unlike me to do that) and playing words with friends every night. I have some dinner plans coming up, Lord & Taylor is having a sale (and I have a coupon), and I figure Boston will beckon once or twice.
But chances are what I'll mostly be doing these next nine weeks is counting down the days till I can pack my bags and get away from it all. California, I can't get there fast enough.