Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Picture This

Tuesday, August 29, 2016. 8:06 a.m. EST.

Me: Okay, class, it's time for your quiz. Close your books, put your notes away.

(Shuffling of textbooks and lab manuals and squeaking of chairs can be heard.)

Me: This quiz has six questions, which you will see up here on the screen. Please write your answer on the paper I just handed you.

Student 1: Is there going to be a word bank?

Me: (Insert eye rolling here.) Uh, not for this quiz. It's pretty simple, and I won't take off for spelling. You'll do fine.

(A collective sigh of relief reverberates across the lab benches.)

Me: Question 1: Name the three formed elements* we discussed in class last week.

Student 2: Can you tell me what you mean by formed element?

Me: No, I cannot. (Takes deep breath, tries not to lose it. Does the mental math and realizes 89 more classes to go. Smiles.)

Student: Ok.

*Formed element refers to red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets, some of which are shown below.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Kitty Cuteness, XIX

OMG, we haven't had a Tuesday Kitty Cuteness since back in April. Seriously. And since I have very few moments to write, but apparently plenty of time to snap pictures, I thought I'd make your day. If you like cats, that is.

These two, Benedict and Arnold, certainly cause their share of mischief, but poses like these help bring my blood pressure back down after a long day of teaching. (As of this morning, friends, I'll only have 90 chances left to break those students!)

But really. Who can deny all of this kitty cuteness?

Arnold. Asleep for a change. Which means he's NOT in the dog's water dish performing water aerobics.

Benedict. In a box. Which means he's NOT batting around a whiffle ball in his attempt to look like Gareth Bale.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Into the Pensieve, VIII

When I was a child, I had a favorite dessert recipe. I loved it so much, I offered a copy of it to my teacher the year we made a class cookbook for Mother's Day. The recipe? We called it Lemon Fluff, but Mom never made the dish with lemon pudding. Instead, she usually used chocolate or pistachio flavored puddings.

Mom and Dad visited last week and for Dad's birthday, I thought I'd pull out that old recipe. I couldn't actually find the cookbook, but I found the right recipe on the good old internet, of course. The recipe doesn't take much time, and based on the oohs and ahhs from my parents, it had been a long time since they'd tasted the dessert. It was so good to see my Mom enjoy something sweet.


2 cups flour
1 cup butter
dash of white sugar

2 cups powdered sugar
2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese (light or regular), softened
2 (3 1/2 ounce) packages instant chocolate (or lemon or pistachio) pudding
3 cups milk
1-2 (8 ounce) containers non-dairy whipped topping

1. Mix the butter and flour together and press into the bottom of a 13x9x2 dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until the edges are brown. Cool.
2. Combine powdered sugar, softened cream cheese, and 2 cups of the whipped topping until well mixed. Then spread over the cooled crust.
3. Combine pudding and milk and spread over cream cheese mixture. Chill.

4. Cover with remaining whipped topping and store in the refrigerator.

Not the best picture, but it tasted great!

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Reasons 181-190

181. Black cotton hoodies.
182. Fresh squeezed orange juice.
183. Ice cold pistachio-almond ice cream on a humid August day.
184. The sound a computer mouse makes when your fingers click the button.
185. A quick hug from my favorite red headed child.
186. Melina's small fingers when they grasp mine.
187. New mattresses.
188. Having a day off.
189. Learning something new.
190. Foot massages.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Emotional Attachments

Talia walked into my bedroom with tears running down her face.

"Is it normal to be so emotionally attached to a fictional character that you care about what happens to them?"

After having just finished an episode of Sherlock, she'd woken me up. I don't know why she felt the need to risk my wrath by waking me up. Maybe she was worried about herself. Maybe she just felt like coming to see me. Maybe she needed comfort; most people don't like crying alone. Or maybe, based on her question, she wanted validation that she was normal.

But I can't say that she is.

I can say that she inherited this particular abnormality from me. Her reaction to Sherlock is the same one I get when I read a particularly well-written and engrossing novel. The books that I'll pick up a second time, the ones that I bawl my eyes out over and want to know what happens to the characters. Talia's reaction is what I hope to cause in someone else each time I finish a story and what I think every writer should strive for each time they put words on the paper.

That's a huge goal to reach for, and one I'll be having trouble finding time to work on these next few months.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Means to an End

Every August, I print out my class lists, copy my class expectations, and throw paper into my binders. I post information online and clean out my bag. Make sure I have room keys and Scantron forms and pencils and dry erase markers. Every August, I find myself a teeny bit excited to be back in the classroom. Sometimes, that excitement carries me through the entire semester.

This year, the excitement lasted until yesterday morning at 10:07 a.m. Which, as many of you know, was the SECOND day of classes.

I can't pinpoint why that moment my house of cards came crashing down, but considering all of my courses (five total this semester) haven't even met for the first time yet, I'm worried. Yesterday afternoon, I actually caught myself counting down the days until December. (As an aside, do you want to know how many more "classes" I have to teach? I'll tell you. That number stands right now at 93. Yes, I have to dispense information 93 more times before the end of the year. Yikes.)

But since I tend to dwell on the positive (or at least I try to), I'm looking at this semester as a means to an end: I have 93 more chances to gather the most effective and amusing anecdotes for future Dear Student letters.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Oh What a Life

Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.
~Roger Caras

I remember the sunny summer day in 2007 that the five of us--this was in the pre-Melina days--visited my folks in Michigan. We hadn't been in the house long when my dad said, "Do you know anyone who wants a dog?"

Anyone? Anyone? How about me? "Uh, yeah. I want a dog. What kind is it?"

"A Golden Retriever."

It didn't take but a few phone calls for us to schedule a visit to meet this Golden Retriever. His owners sought a home for him because he stayed alone for over 12 hours a day. "It's not fair to the dog," they said. "We'd love to find him a great place to stay. His name is Shadow."

We rolled up the driveway in our minivan, three excited kids strapped into their car seats. As we all got out of the car, I felt a fleeting moment of uncertainty: what I hoped to find and what I might find could very well be two different things. But within an instant, a large, reddish bolt of fur zoomed our way. His face held soft brown eyes and an enormous smile. His tailed wagged so much I thought it would fall off. The five of us fell in love that day, and a few weeks later, Tim drove back up to Michigan for the sole purpose of bringing Shadow home to Ohio.

Here we are nine years on, in the summer of 2016, and Shadow is on this side of old. According to Totally Goldens (and most other sites I could find) , the average life span of a Golden  Retriever is 10-12 years. Some lucky dogs live to see 14, but most do not. Last summer, just after his 11th birthday, we faced Shadow's possible demise with our hemangioma scare, but after a successful surgery, we were granted a (slight) reprieve. Since that time, I've known the end was in sight. However, I have tried not to concentrate on the fact that our friend would be leaving us within a few years.

But about a month ago, I noticed Shadow hadn't been eating well and then he suffered a bout of diarrhea. We took him in for a workup, which led to an ultrasound and aspiration of lumps in his liver, which led to an inconclusive diagnosis of those liver masses. These masses could belong to one of two groups. 1. sarcoma (cancer) or 2. adenoma (benign).

Here's the problem, though, with that information. In order to find out if the lumps are cancer or not, we need to have a biopsy done. At Shadow's age (he's now 12) and with the possibility of fluid in the masses, that procedure comes with some risks. Furthermore, if we confirm that the lumps are cancerous, the normal route would be to consider chemotherapy, which is costly and would only gain us about six months of time.

But, you might say, what if the biopsy shows that the masses are benign? There's a problem there as well: his liver simply houses too many masses to do anything. Surgery to take the buggers out isn't feasible because it would be like trying to work on a minefield. And unlike with the splenectomy of last year, Shadow cannot live without a liver.

So now, we wait. We make Shadow as comfortable as we can, and we coax him into eating with boiled eggs, sweet potatoes, chicken, and dog treats. He's still the lovable old guy he's always been. He runs to the door when we return from wherever we've gone. He salivates over salami and pizza and sliced turkey. He stares at the cats like they're crazy and he appreciates the cuddles and tickles he gets from everyone. He races to the gate to say good morning to the neighbor dog, Cody, and when people arrive (like the carpet guy the other day), he doesn't leave them alone until they scratch his chin or ears to his satisfaction. Until that normal behavior starts to wane, I'm holding onto him with a tight grip.

But I cannot imagine having to take him to the vet to say goodbye. If I stop to think about that scenario, which will come sooner now rather than later, I find myself overwhelmed with tears and sorrow. I will miss this dog horribly. On days that the four kids made me crazy, he was often my saving grace. He served as Aaron's playmate when Aaron was too young to go to school but too old for a nap and as Melina's guardian when she was a baby. Anyone who walks in the door, whether or not they like dogs, eventually turns to me and says, "You have a special dog there, you know."

Oh, how I know. I have never, in my life, encountered a dog like Shadow and I don't expect to find another canine friend like him. I can only hope that once he's passed on from this world, that he's as happy as he has made us.

So please excuse me if I remove myself from some of my social obligations in the next few months. Pardon me if you don't see me anywhere but at home, work, or the grocery store. Forgive me if I stumble with my words or tear up in the vicinity of your pet. I'll likely be thinking about this boy of ours and trying to spend as much time with him as I can before his sand is used up.

Once you have had a wonderful dog, a life without one, is a life diminished. 
~Dean Koontz

Friday, August 19, 2016

Under the Big Top, II

I love the saying, "Not my circus, not my monkeys." It's supposedly translated from Polish and basically means--if you can't figure it out yourself--that whatever you're talking about isn't your problem and there's no need for you to be dragged under the muck that is the problem.

But sometimes, it is your circus and they are your monkeys, and let me tell you, my friends, when you realize that you're living that life, there's not much you can do but laugh.

And try to shovel out of the deep layers of excrement you have piled around you.

Wise words for a Friday, I know.

Thursday, August 18, 2016


At the beginning of the summer, I decided that one of my writing goals would involve my current WIP, After We've Fallen. Although I'd received feedback from my writing group back in April, I hadn't done anything with that feedback except think about it. Knowing my writing time would be very limited, I said to myself, "Revise the bad boy and be done with it by the end of summer." But in order to revise, I had to go see a priest.

If you keep up with this blog, you'll know that I didn't bother to see the priest until mid-July. (Okay, it wasn't that I didn't bother, it's that I was busy. You know how that goes). What had I done between the start of summer (May 23rd or so) and mid-July? I'd gone through each marked-up copy (I had six of them) and made the tiny corrections suggested by my writing group. All the little things had been marked off the list. After seeing the priest, I tackled the larger issues. Sure, I only had about a month to go before summer ended. That timing mattered not to me: sometimes I work well under deadlines.

Well, yesterday, my summer officially ended. The kids left the house, the last one at 8:30 a.m. And I'm happy to report that I read the last page of After We've Fallen, made the final revision, and sent a copy to my sisters at 9:42 a.m. The only thing better than that would be if I'd shipped the manuscript off to my agent.

Maybe next year.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

New Year

Last night, I set the alarm for 5:00 a.m. I'm not sure why I bothered. With the first day of school for the kids being today, I knew I'd be up and ready. Not because I'm at the end of my tether and willing to sell my kids to the lowest bidder. No, it's more of a quiet nervousness that exists for at least three of my four kids.

The older two head off to high school and the boy starts middle school. Only the youngest is at the same school as last year. And since we already know (and love) her teacher, we don't expect too many surprises.

But I found myself asking so many questions this morning that shut-eye remained elusive. And I'm not even the one going to school.

I could bore you with those questions, but I won't. Deep down, I know that Zoe and Talia, while nervous, will find their way (literally and figuratively) through the high school. I know that Aaron won't forget his lunch every day nor will he go to one class instead of the one written on his schedule. And Melina? Shoot, I know for sure she'll ask to use the toilet in a British accent and make her teacher laugh.

It will be a good day. It will be a good week. It will be a good year.

I just need to keep telling myself that.

Monday, August 15, 2016

No Names

When I received my current work-in-progress back from my writing group, I noticed that one of the minor critiques by a writing mate concerned my use of names in dialogue.

"It's not natural," she wrote, "to use names that often."

So instead of writing, "Sadie, I know how distressing and probably exhausting that admission was for you to say those words," my partner wanted me to simply remove Sadie. It should be clear, if the piece is written well, who is speaking. (I'm not saying that sentence is either profound or exceptionally well-written; I simply use it as an example.)

I found multiple other places in the manuscript where names were to be eliminated, too, and in the midst of revising, I started to slash them all.

You can find a patch like this here.
But as I went about taking out the names, I realized WHY I'd written my manuscript in that manner. I have names in my dialogue because...(drumroll)...that's how I talk around my house.

Yes, I use names ALL THE TIME HERE, for what I think boils down to three reasons:
  1. I have first-born identical twins who spend a large amount of time together. I have always had to use a name in our conversations so that it was clear to whom I was speaking. Otherwise, I'm grouping Zoe and Talia together, all the time, and that goes against the Twin Parenting Code of Conduct.
  2. In a house with four children and multiple animals, for clarity's sake, we often use names. "Do you want rice or potatoes?" doesn't work in this house. You must add a name to the dialogue because yes, sometimes the animals answer. And any time I want to address Tim, I start off with, "Timmy!" (Ask him, it's true.)
  3. When I'm talking to a friend or a child or a colleague who really needs me to listen and dispense advice, I purposefully say the name several times. I feel more connected to that person and I hope they hear me better and understand that I'm truly trying to listen and help. 
However, I can appreciate my friend's point, and so in the interest of making my piece that much better, I'll weigh each time a name comes up and decide what to do with it. And at least no one can accuse me of making up excuses.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Monday, August 8, 2016

Dear Student, IX

Dear Student,

Here we are, before the semester even begins, and I'm writing to you. Don't you wonder why? It's partly because I love writing these letters to you (find the other letters by searching this blog for Dear Student), and partly because I anticipate that I'm going to have a rough semester.

You see, I received an email a little while ago explaining that we're in the midst of changing textbooks. Which means that for anyone taking the first semester of the Human Anatomy and Physiology series, a new textbook is needed. For people like you, who are taking the second semester of the series, you can continue to use the textbook you bought for the first course.

Great news, right?


Because in addition to that original email from a colleague, I've already received several emails from students. The gist of those emails goes a little like this:

I see we need the 10th edition of the textbook, but I have the 8th edition. Will that be good enough?


I see we need the 10th edition of the textbook, but I have the 5th edition. Will that be good enough?


I see we need the 10th edition of the textbook, but I don't think I need a textbook to learn anatemy and physicology [sic]. Will taking notes be good enough?

Gah, gah, and even more gah.

So I'm telling you right now two things that I want you to remember:

1. The most current edition of the text is not necessary, if you're taking the class with ME. I will be using the textbook you bought for the first course in this series. Clearly, then, if you didn't buy a book last semester, then you must buy it and buy it now. (Better yet, go ahead and buy the 10th edition as listed in the master syllabus because chances are, you'll be taking this class a second time.)

2. You'll also need to take notes in this class. Because unlike what you might think, while you do need a textbook to learn Anatomy and Physiology, you also need to learn how to apply what we're discussing. And sometimes, that learning process involves taking notes. (But past classes have proven to me that the likelihood of you actually taking notes is slim to none. So like I said, go buy yourself a book.)

I'm looking forward to a fantastic semester and I hope you are as well. See you on the 23rd!


Your Teacher

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Back in the Saddle

I can't remember the last time I went so long between blog posts. I feel creaky, achy, as if I'm waking up from a long winter's slumber. My eyes are sore, my fingers clumsy. And my words? Tripping over one another to get out. I've been busy, to say the least, and unable to get in front of the computer. Now, I need to make up for lost time.

But this post isn't going to be a marathon of words or an onslaught of opinion. (I could give you both, I think.) It's a gentle reminder to find peace and happiness in the little joys of life: family, friends, art projects, warm blankets, fuzzy slippers, sunny days, flowers, ice cold water or whatever bits-of-life make you content.

Good luck.