Thursday, September 29, 2016

Pause

We're at the end of week six for the semester and I'm hanging on by a thread. I've taken too much on. Let me repeat that: I've taken too much on. I have Literary Mama duties, an anthology I'm trying to put together, home school religious education for two of my children and two friends, plus five classes to teach. I'm also still mother to these four lovely darlings we have here and trying to maintain a blog. Add the animals into the mix and, as I said, I've taken too much on. I'm not complaining, I'm just stating a fact. Since this is my blog. I can do so. I've taken too much on. (Don't you wonder how many times I can write that same sentence? Am I starting to sound redundant? Yes, I am. Even to my own ears.)

So what's going to give? The teaching? Ha! As much as I teeter on the edge of making that decision to say goodbye (and I say it every year),  I can't give that up. Of course, I can't give the kids up, either. Which means that yes, it's the writing that will be going by the wayside. (Not the anthology, and not anything to do with Literary Mama. Just the blog.)

Say it ain't so, right? I know,  I know. I'm shaking my head as I write this post. A post that might be the last one for a while.

And yes, I've said that before, but then words usually need to come screaming out of my fingers and I can't stop. This time, I can stop and I will.

But fear not, dear readers. I have a plan. Unlike someone else who does not have a plan, even though he says he has a plan. I'm telling you--he has no plan. And that no plan thing is not what we want in the White House! I don't care if you like Hillary or not. She's qualified to be there. I've never been her biggest supporter, but next to the egotistical, racist, sexist, liar that Trump is, I'll take her. Plus, she has experience on her side.

But this is not a Tell Me How You Really Feel post. No, this is an I'll see you in a few months post. Because my plan entails writing down the things I think of, but not posting them. Then, I don't have to worry about grammar and such and I won't feel the pressure to put words on this page so that FRN can read them. (Ahem.) I also plan on participating in NaNoWriMo (yes, even though I will then officially have gone off the deep end by taking on even more), and coming back to you at the end of December, right after the semester ends.

Now, just so you know, should anything fabulous happen in my writing life, such as I publish a book or a story, I will post the good news here. But until that happens...

Hiatus this is, goodbye, it is not.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Kitty Cuteness, XX

Our 20th installment and we have a guest kitty...


We met this little guy when we attended a local Autumn Fest. Only six weeks old, he and his brother had been brought to The Learning Tree Farm to serve as resident mousers. As of Saturday, the kitties were unnamed, but our friend Brooke said she might name this little one Ferdinand, in honor of one of our favorite feline friends (a guy I still miss).

Monday, September 26, 2016

Broken Hearts Indeed Do Crack, II

To read Part I of this story, go here.

Hands had always been important to Caroline. Adam had large, warm, capable hands. Unlined, palms slightly calloused. When they first started dating, she'd never have described his hands as capable, but she'd read that description once in a romance novel and she realized that yes, her Adam, did have capable hands. Sappy, but true.

Now, she looked at their intertwined fingers and wondered exactly what his hands were capable of. Did they harbor the capacity to cheat on her? Had his fingers trailed down the arm of that girl her friend had told her about? When he said he'd been at work, which lately, he'd been doing more of, had he really been out with her? The girl?

She clutched his fingers tightly against her palm, afraid to let go of them. Caroline knew, if she did, she might float away from this world, never to come back.

"Seriously, Caro. Let's go. I want to show you something."

"What is it?" Caroline let go of his fingers and wiped at her eyes, not wanting to let Adam see the tears perched there. She needed to stay strong, to show him that she was still her own person, but if that was the case, she should have been able to call him out on his supposed behavior. On the other hand, though, she didn't have any tangible evidence of wrongdoing. Just a snippet from a friend and a feeling in her gut.

But those feelings in your gut usually spoke the truth. Everyone knew that. It was following up on gut feelings that Caroline had trouble with. She knew what her therapist would say to her about this latest gut feeling and Adam. "Don't hold onto someone just to have someone," Dr. T would tell her. "It's better to be alone then questioning and unhappy. You know this. Trust yourself."

Caroline could hear Dr. T's voice inside her head. She envisioned his kind face and experienced eyes. He had her best interests at heart and had helped her through some trying times in her past. But what about Adam? Over the last several months, she'd questioned Adam's sincerity too many times. Caroline wasn't sure if he had her best interests at heart anymore.

Adam's smooth voice interrupted her thoughts. "I can't tell you until we're there." He tugged on Caroline's sleeve, wrapped his arm around her waist, and led her through the door. "Come on, Caro. Let's go."


The steps of the stone church, damp from the evening mist, glistened under the street lamps. Adam guided Caroline over to the far right corner near the entrance. As she waited, Caroline looked at the doors, old and worn, made of wood that had long ago warped from the elements. She turned around, toward the sounds of cars and people, and realized this church faced River Street. She clenched her fists at her sides and waited as Adam moved toward her.

"Adam, why are we here?" The dim light of the lamps cast uneven shadows on his face, making it difficult for Caroline to see his face.

"Caro, I wanted a place to talk. To speak to you about something important." Adam's eyelid twitched, a tell that Caroline had learned long ago meant he was nervous.

"And we're just going to stand here and talk?" Caroline felt her face wrinkle in confusion. Why couldn't they have chatted in her apartment? She'd prefer a dry space, a safe space. She stood out in the open here.

"Well...no, but..." Adam reached for her hand and moved her over to the small stone wall that encircled the top of the steps. They'd moved into the light. She could see him better now and what she thought was nervousness had been replaced with something more...what? She couldn't quite place it.

"This church...my parents used to take me here," Adam started. "We came here for many years until we moved too far to come here. But when I came back to the city, I knew I'd make my way back. And when I met you, I knew I'd bring you here."

Caroline's heart rate picked up. "But why? Why are we here?" She looked down at her lap as her fingers wrestled with each other. Her hands, small and soft, probably wouldn't have been termed capable, but they'd always served her well.

"My Dad proposed to my mom here. They got married here. We went to church here. This place has history." Adam gestured toward the door. "This place..." He moved toward Caroline and bent at the knee, all the while reaching for something in his pocket.

Caroline's vision began to blur and her ears picked up a wooshing sound. She blinked back tears and breathed in large drafts of air. She knew nothing had changed on the outside: that the spit of the rain still ticked against the pavement and the hiss of tires filled the night air. With eyes partially closed, she clung to the real world in the only way she knew how: she reached for Adam's hand, the one that didn't hold the small cubic jewelry box.

"Caroline, will you do me the honor of becoming my wife?"

Caroline squeezed Adam's fingers between hers. She looked at Adam's face, filled with hope. She envisioned the future: a cape cod house, three children, and a part-time job. She saw Adam skip up the walkway that wound from the street to their front porch. She watched as he picked up their littlest child and nuzzled his nose against the baby's naked belly. She looked away, toward the gray night sky. She felt the first tear begin to spill down her cheek. "I don't know," she whispered. "I don't know."

To be continued...



Friday, September 23, 2016

The Friday Five


1. Marveled at the complexities and awesomeness of the written word (not mine).
2. Marveled at the atrocities of the written word (mine).
3. Set up a time next week to see an old friend for lunch.
4. Explained a concept to a student, who seemed to understand it better after we spoke (fingers crossed).
5. Looked at the dry grass on the front lawn and was struck by the fleeting nature of life.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Dear Student Starts

Dear Student: Renal and radial describe two entirely different areas of the body.
Dear Student: Coming to class might be optional in your mind, but if you miss any more class, I'll have enough evidence to justify the F you'll be seeing in the grade book.

Dear Student: Sitting at the front of the class will not make you smarter. (There have been studies performed that indicate students who sit at the front of the class achieve better test scores, but based on the exam you took yesterday, it's clear you don't fall into that bunch.)

Dear Student: Sitting at the back of the class doesn't mean I can't see you as you text your buddy about your lunch plans.

Dear Student: When I say that CO = HR x SV, that SV = EDV - ESV, and that you should memorize and understand how those formulas work, then YOU SHOULD MEMORIZE AND UNDERSTAND HOW THOSE FORMULAS WORK.

Dear Student: Just like avascular means without blood vessels, so too does anucleated mean without a nucleus. Remember when I said to pay attention to prefixes, suffixes, and words in general?


Monday, September 19, 2016

Comfort Food

I've been running around a lot lately, mostly to events, work, meetings, and such. I always feel as though I'm running behind, actually, and if I get to where I need to be on time (which used to be late for me), I almost congratulate myself. We have so much going on these days that I find myself reaching for the small comforts: an cup of warm coffee, a chocolate chip cookie, and yesterday, broccoli casserole.

Strange, but true, but when I tell you what goes in this casserole and how to make it, you'll realize it truly is a comfort food. And comfort foods are allowed to be firmly entrenched in the strange category.

Ingredients:
1 16 oz package chopped frozen broccoli (two 10 oz packages are fine, too)
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
1/2 cup of butter
1/2 bag of Pepperidge Farm stuffing mix

Steps:

1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan.
2. Add the broccoli and cook just until thawed.
3. Add the soup and the stuffing mix and stir.
4. Place into buttered casserole pan.
5. Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

Looks absolutely disgusting, I know.
 The kids won't touch this dish, but it's one of Tim's favorite classics from home. And last night, I had two helpings as we watched The X-Files. Great food, great times.

Friday, September 16, 2016

The Friday Five

Another week down and another five things I did this week. In the interest of saving time, here we go...

1. Yelled at the top of my lungs, "IT IS NOT A BATHTUB!" to Arnold, the cat, when I heard him batting the dog's water bowl around in the kitchen.
2. Explained cardiac output and how stroke volume and heart rate affect cardiac output so many times that I could probably teach it in my sleep.
3. Ran around on Tuesday for three hours in the afternoon all within two miles of my house.
4. Gawked at the nerve of someone on Facebook. (Okay, I think I need to explain this because it really bothered me. An acquaintance had written in a post: "Today I sit here over whelmed with my thoughts.... I have one kid in jail heading to prison... My son is currently in a hospital bed cause of not wanting to live any more..... I sit here consumed with my own thoughts....." No matter what you think of the person and her words, my heart went out to her. Least valuable comment she received--and the reason I gawked: "Stay strong honey. This too shall pass." Yep. Someone said that.)
5. Attended a community concert that featured Monroeville. The band lit up the stage and played with every orchestra at the high school. Yes, my kids played with a real live band! How cool is that?

(Never heard of Monroeville? Neither had I. So here's a video to help acquaint you.)





Thursday, September 15, 2016

Dear Student, X

Dear Student,

Congratulations on making it to the fourth week of the semester. As you know, in this fourth week, we take our first lab exam. The exam covers topics on blood, the heart, the EKG, and all the arteries we studied. I stood up, in front of the class, three weeks in a row, pouring forth all of the information that you would need in order to do well on this lab exam. In fact, having taught the course for the last 13 years,  I even stated something similar to: "I don't make the exam, but by now, I have a pretty good idea of how they ask the questions. Pay attention. You might learn something."

Well, student, it is clear that you did not learn anything. Because as I stood at the front of the classroom after you had left and I corrected the exams with my handy green pen, I noticed something. The handful of sample questions provided by the department--the ones I told you were important to understand and study--appeared in some form on the exam. And even though I went over one of the concepts three times in class, and showed you how to perform the function, you still managed to get that question wrong. And I'm okay with that fact. I understand that anxiety can arise or maybe you forgot to review that last bit of information at the bottom of the study slides. I get it. I was once a student and I've been where you are.

But when I saw what other questions you missed, I realized that I have, in only four weeks, failed you miserably.

You see, despite the fact that I taught you about stroke volume and heart rate and how to calculate cardiac output, even though I showed you where all the arteries are and the direction blood flows through the heart, although I instructed you how to tell the difference between a basophil and a neutrophil under the microscope...despite all of that, you will never get the question right if you don't actually READ THE QUESTION on the paper.


Yep. When I checked your test, it became apparent very quickly that what you did was approach the lab bench, look at the model/slide/dissected heart in front of you, and decide what you thought I was asking. You didn't read the question in front of you at all. You couldn't have, or you wouldn't have replied with the answers that you did.

Mea culpa, student. Mea culpa. I have learned and I hope you have, too. Next semester, I'll start off the lab class with a brief introduction of who I am and what the class is about, and then, I'll remind you that when it comes to exams (and really, life in general), one must read the question to actually have a hope of answering said question correctly. I'll also repeat that instruction every time we have an exam, because I don't want to have to feel so guilty for your bad grades.

It's always a great day for me when I learn something student. I'm only sorry it had to be at your expense. I have to wonder, though, if you have so much trouble reading a question, I'm guessing you will also not understand the concept of sarcasm.

Good luck with the remaining 12 weeks.

Sincerely,

Your teacher.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Monday, September 12, 2016

The One About the Kids Who Know More Than I Do

WARNING: THIS POST IS NOT FOR THE LITTLES!

It's early in the morning sometime last week and I find myself chopping mini-cucumbers into small slices and placing them into plastic containers for the girls' lunches. Most of the time, I let the twins, who are 14 and freshmen in high school, make their own lunches. But I was putting together a work snack for myself and I thought I would help the twins save some time.

My intent was to peel them one mini cucumber each, wrap it in foil, and then place it into the respective lunch box. But after I'd peeled the cucumbers, I realized how phallic these two particular specimens looked. I could just imagine what the kids at the table would think as the girls unwrapped their cucumbers and went to place them into their mouths.

I had already chopped our cucumbers, so I had to find this picture here.
Yes, that's where we are these days. In the thick of high school depravity and debauchery. And just so you know it's not just me and my dirty mind. I asked the girls what would have happened had I sent them to school with intact cucumbers. (Ha!)

"You're right," Talia said. "We probably would have thought of that."

She didn't have to say what "that" meant, and when I asked them about the cucumbers, I never went into detail, either. They understand sexual innuendo so well, better than me sometimes, and when I look at them I think, "How did this happen? You're only 14!"

Fourteen today, out of college and beyond, tomorrow. Time's moving too quickly, I say...

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Saturday Color

My eyes are drawn to color (hence, my penchant for ugly fleece). And sometimes, I find myself craving color around me. Its presence will calm and soothe and make most hectic days seem manageable. (The same thing can be said of freshly vacuumed floors, but that revelation speaks to my OCD tendencies, which might be a better subject for another post.)

Lately, I've been looking for that color in pictures...




Friday, September 9, 2016

The Friday Five

Dear Blog Readers,

Today marks the end of week three for my classes. Yes, I have three weeks in the books and only thirteen more to go, but who's counting, right? (I am, and you know it.) And here we are, on a Friday in early September, on my day off, and I should consider doing something fun today. Perhaps I will, because nothing else this week was much fun.


I stayed after class to help a student out who needed it. I sped through Aldi so quickly, the lady behind me in line (who had seen me first in the dairy section, then in produce, and finally at the cashier) told me I was "on point." I substituted aerobics for running on Wednesday because I only had 25 minutes to exercise. I lost it in class when my students couldn't tell me what gap junctions were for (soon to be a Dear Student letter). I laughed so hard, I almost wet my pants.

I guess that last tidbit could be considered somewhat fun, but not really, considering if I had wet my pants, I would just have more laundry to do, and therefore more work, and that leads to less fun. Are you with me?

What did you do this week?

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Bless This Hot Mess

As many of you know, I drink coffee (part decaf, part regular). I also drink tea. And if you didn't know, I enjoy a cup of hot chocolate from time to time (made with milk, not water). While I have my favorite mugs, I also have a cupboard full of other mugs that fit the bill at 5 a.m. Meaning, if it's a mug, and it holds coffee, it will do just fine. (Shoot, there are some days I'd consider just drinking right out of the carafe, but I'm afraid I'll spill the hot java on my shirt.)

However, I actually do enjoy having witty or funny mugs in my mug arsenal. And yesterday, FRN sent me a link to an article on The Huffington Post entitled "21 Brutally Honest Mugs that Nail Your Morning Struggle."

If you have a chance, scroll through the list. My favorite mug is one I can envision taking into work each day, waiting for someone to look at me like I'm nuts (because I am).


What's your favorite?

P.S. Just as an aside, and so you have the backstory, I believe FRN sent me the link in response to a picture of a mug I posted on Facebook on Tuesday.


The mug speaks the truth. The chair that spins is, of course, the best part of my day. It's too bad that I don't always get to sit in that lovely spinny chair.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Without Words

Rita always knew what to say, how to say it, and when to say it, but as she sat in her car in the parking lot of her local Kroger store ("Right Store, Right Price"), words refused to move from her brain to her mouth.

"What did you say?" Rita asked her brother, Robert, who called her most mornings with a news update. Those updates spanned the gamut: from non-news about current celebrities to the antics of his twin 10-year-old sons, to things that their parents had said to him. Lately, the last category contained preposterous news. "The shit old people say," Robert always said. "Who knew?"

"Yep. She said it. Mom said it. To me. On the phone. Yesterday." Robert's clipped words meant only one thing: he was driving into work, probably surrounded by loads of traffic.

Rita gazed out the window at the fog that hung in the air. She was so tired of the heat and humidity that draped every landscape and just as tired of hearing all the crap her parents said in their old age. "Okay, but just to be clear, can you tell me again? I want to make sure you said what I think you said."

Robert cleared his throat and used his best TV announcer voice. "She said, "I'd divorce him today, but I don't think that's the right thing to do."

The She involved was their mother and the Him was their Dad. Together for 52 not-so-wonderful years, the kids had always wondered why they'd never divorced. But getting married in the mid-1960s was a different time. Now, divorces were a dime a dozen and some marriages didn't even last a day. News of an impending divorce wouldn't have bothered Rita ten years ago. But at this juncture? Dad had been diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer and while no one knew the path he'd take, both she and Robert knew that he would need help, and soon. Divorce wasn't an option, and shame on her mother for even thinking about it.


"It's all about her, isn't it?" Rita asked. The question stood as rhetorical. She and Robert always fell back to that same conclusion. Their mother was, in a word, selfish. Always had been and always would be, and no matter what they said, there would be no changes.

"It is about her. Always. But remember, I just report the news. Please don't shoot the messenger."

"As if I could, dude. You know that." Rita shook her head and told Robert she needed to get into the grocery store. "Lots to do today. It's my only day off this week."

"K, Sis. Talk later."

But as Rita walked past the avocados and toward the yogurt section of the store, the conversation she'd just had with Robert stuck with her. Had her mother really said she'd divorce Dad? Was she really thinking about it? Rita thought that at least her mother realized that now wasn't the time, but even the sentiment bothered her. If Mom's heart wasn't in the marriage, who was to say she'd take care of Dad properly? To put him first when right now, he needed to be put first.

Thankfully, as Rita rounded the corner of the dairy section, her neighbor came into view. Despite Rita's normal inclination to stay silent and alone, to do her shopping in the solitude she always sought, she found herself grappling for something she couldn't define. Maybe just a quick smile and a hello would allow for the bitterness of her mother's statement to dissipate. She had to try. She lifted her arm and waved wildly at the neighbor and felt a bit of weight lift from her shoulders as the woman waved back.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Into the Pensieve, IX

A week or so ago, Sesame Street's Facebook page featured a clip of a very old short. I'm including it here, in case you've never seen it. But I bet for some of you, if I said, "a loaf of bread, a container of milk..." you'd fill in the rest with "and a stick of butter."



This clip is labeled Can you remember? And seeing it last week reminded me how bittersweet memories can be. That clip was a favorite of my mom's when I was little, and just the words conjured images of green shag carpeting, long, dark coffee tables, the wrought iron railing between the kitchen and the family room, and Mom's voice repeating this chant.

I wonder if I said to her, "A loaf of bread, a container of milk..." if she'd be able to fill in the rest as easily as I can. My guess would be no, but since this is a memory from a number of years ago, Mom might just surprise me with a yes. I'll do my best to remember to ask her the next time I see her. In the meantime, I'll smile each time I watch this video. And smiles are sometimes few and far between when it comes to dealing with a family member who has Alzheimer's.

Monday, September 5, 2016

What's Your Plan?

Mondays are great days to look again at what I'm doing with my writing life and why I'm doing it. Even with this busy semester of teaching, I try, each day, to get to my computer and put words to the page. It might be a few hundred words for a blog post, or it might be a measly couple of paragraphs for a future book idea, but I'm afraid if I don't write ANYTHING, then I'll walk away and never return. (It is, after all, A LOT easier to do so many other things, a list of which I could gather, but won't.)

What I've figured out in the last few days is that my best writing can fall into a couple of groups: I write novels (that eventually I hope to get somewhere), blog posts, essays, and creative nonfiction. And these forms of writing are things I can actually do somewhat well (according to feedback from alpha and beta readers). But for so long, I've tried my hardest to fit into the category of short story writer, all because someone told me the way to a novel contract is through short stories. And it's taken me this long (four years and counting) to realize that the short story is not the form for me.

It's also taken me this long to realize that you can't believe everything everyone tells you and that writers do not always succeed in every form. I KNEW that fact--but in my quest to become a better writer, I think that I thought I should try to tackle it all and be good at it all.

Of course, as I found out early on in my mothering career, I can't do everything and I can't do everything well. I'm not exactly why I thought it would be any different with respect to writing.

So for this week, I'm going to concentrate on one piece, attack it with vigor, and make it shine. I'm going to let go of the thought that I need to write short fiction, and I'm going to make my novel sing. That's the plan, and I'm sticking to it.

What's your plan?

Friday, September 2, 2016

The Friday Five

When Melina was in second grade, she had to write a letter each week called The Friday Five. The letter actually started out as a list of five things she had done that week. By the time the end of the year rolled around, she had progressed to writing a letter, complete with the date, salutation, and closing. She'd bring her notebook home, I'd sign it (saying that I'd read what she wrote), and I'd write back to her in the same notebook. I started with lists, too, and made my way up to letters.

Now Melina is in third grade, and she's not bringing home The Friday Five anymore. However, I liked reading those lists and letters, and I liked writing them, partially because it gave me a reason to relive Melina's week as well as my own. Sometimes, those weeks were long, and other times, they flew by so quickly. Most of the weeks varied on a theme: busy, busy, busy, with teaching and writing thrown in. But every so often, like last April, I wrote that I'd watched far too much White Collar because I'd been pretty sick for four days.

Artwork by Sara Frankl*

I'm thinking about instituting The Friday Five for the blog because this semester, as you know, is insanely busy. (I'm not even sure those two words adequately express my level of busy, but I'll leave it at that. And, I have no one to blame but myself.) I'm thinking that The Friday Five will make me slow down, think about the week, think about each day, and force me to simply enjoy each moment for what it was and what it is. I'm thinking, the inclusion of the The Friday Five will force me to write each Friday, too, even though I quite possibly might not want to.

So here we go. (This week, it's a list. Other weeks, it might be more.)

1. I helped a student (not one of mine) find his classroom--the same one he'd been trying to find for a week.
2. I edited several pieces (none of them mine) that struck a chord with me and made me want to keep writing.
3. I listened to a person very dear to my heart vent.
4. I teared up, on the way to work, at the sight of Canada geese flying over the Miami River.
5. I drove in circles on at least two days. (Really. I had to pick up the girls from school, drop them at viola lessons, then go get Aaron. I seriously drove in a circle.)

*A little note about the artwork. I thought about making my own art, but instead performed a search for what was out there. The image shown caught my eye, and I'm glad it did. I followed the links and found that, sadly, the artist had passed away in 2011 from Ankylosing Spondylitis. That disease name is tough to pronounce and even tougher to live with. But part of Sara's legacy is the Choose Joy Foundation. You can read about the foundation's mission, and whether or not you believe in God, I think we can all agree that choosing joy is the way to go.