Diapers and Dragons

Friday, December 23, 2011

Great Tidings of ... Change. Maybe Some Joy. It's In There Somewhere.

Yes, yes, I know it has been ages (again) and the few holdouts who ever bother to check whether I even have a post up are wondering what has happened to me. The rest of you are apparently just too lazy to remove me from your blogrolls, and bless you for it. My ego gets somewhat soothed by seeing that my number of followers has miraculously remained the same during this inadvertent sabbatical.

Things have been....complicated. In order to protect certain people's privacy and to not stir up more drama in an already overly dramatic situation, I have been keeping silent here, much as I wanted (and still want) to pour things out for you. It would make fascinating reading, I'm sure, in a National Enquirer sort of way. Or perhaps like the script of a Jerry Springer show.

So let me 'splain...No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

A person of our acquaintance and her husband are each in circumstances that render them currently unable to take care of their five-year-old daughter. She (the five-year-old) has been with us for the last week and a half, and will be with us for an undetermined space of time, although we have plans to enroll her in kindergarten here in our district for the rest of the school year. We have been given a form of power of attorney for her that allows us to act as her parental agents for the next six months.

So we now have a Brady Bunch! Truly so this week, as The Dark One is with us over most of Winter Break. And lord help us, this house suddenly feels much smaller.

Despite all the noise and stress, MTL and I keep getting confirmation that we've made the right decision by taking The Hurricane (as we have nicknamed the wild child) into our home. To keep the story short(er), I'll give you the highlights:
  • We needed $200 in order to pay a lawyer to draw up the Delegation of Parental Powers. We were very short on cash that week, and wouldn't have the money until our payday, one day later than we needed. I was able to contact my parents out in West Africa to ask if we could borrow the money for a day. It turned out that earlier that day my father had become convinced that we were going to need some money for whatever was going on in the situation, and the amount of $200 came into his mind. In addition, they made the decision, before we even Skyped them, to gift us the money rather than loan it. (Have I mentioned that I have wonderful parents?)
  • Two weeks earlier or so, before we even had a clue we would be taking in The Hurricane, my sister was shopping for Christmas gifts for the children. She saw an extra one that she was drawn to, and decided to just go ahead and buy it, even though she wasn't sure why. Turns out it was perfect for our new addition!
  • The Widget had a Santa's Workshop at his daycare (to purchase small gifts for family), and I was supposed to turn in the money and list of names by last Tuesday. Since it wasn't my custody week, I forgot and didn't get it in until Thursday. The Hurricane joined us very suddenly Tuesday night. I was therefore able to include her name on the list and add a bit to the money I turned in, and The Widget was able to buy a gift for her as well!
  • My brother, the wonderful DorkMaster B, was able to rearrange his one morning shift at work so that he could come stay with us last week and be with The Hurricane during the work day. Without his graciousness, we would have struggled to care for her during my last week of work before break.
  • I had been attempting to make an appointment with the kids' elementary school's social worker in order to clue her in on some issues going on with KlutzGirl, and had been frustrated by the lack of response. However, because of the delay, when we did meet we were able to discuss The Hurricane's situation as well. She is now filled in and better prepared should anything come up at school with either girl and she is needed in a support situation.
There are other incidents as well, but those are some of the ones I can share.

It's been an exhausting week. Well, realistically, it's been an exhausting few months. Our stress levels are high, we aren't getting much sleep, and privacy is a rare commodity around here. But I know we're doing the right thing.

And the kids are awfully cute, amidst all the commotion. It's going to be a crazy awesome Christmas.

Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Happy Solstice, or whatever other holiday you may be celebrating this time of year! May the next year be a wonderful one--and far less dramatic than this one.

Hugs and Kisses,
The Crazy Woman Running This Crazy Household

Friday, December 2, 2011

Adventures in Domestic Divinity: The Widget's Apple-Oatmeal Muffins

One of the most difficult challenges in dealing with The Widget's dietary restrictions is baking breads, muffins, cookies, and the like. While I can at least use yeast, which allows me to actually make real bread (something I was never able to successfully accomplish back when I was doing this for DramaBoy), having to avoid gluten AND rice, soy, corn, and buckwheat makes the task....interesting. There are many fabulous food-sensitivity recipes out there these days, thanks primarily to the other bloggers who have similar issues in their households (check out the links down on the right hand margin), so I don't have to do everything from scratch. However, as I've become more familiar and comfortable with the different Funky Flours I use, I've been able to play around with conventional recipes as well.

I've been wanting to get more fiber into The Widget's diet, because he inherited certain, um, issues from a grandparent that make visits to the toilet another challenge. (Thank God the child likes prune juice. Just sayin'.) I also recently discovered that there IS such a thing as gluten-free oats! Therefore, I am not limited to using quinoa flakes in the place of oats. They generally are a good alternative, but they have a distinctive taste that doesn't work with everything, they are very fine in texture, and I don't like overloading The Widget's system with any one ingredient (which can trigger new sensitivities).

So today I checked some options on the Intarwebz and, praise be to the Google gods, found a simple recipe that I could easily adapt. With no further ado, I present you with:

The Widget's Apple-Oatmeal Muffins*

  • 1 cup dry gluten-free rolled oats (Bob's Red Mill makes some that should be readily available at Whole Foods or the like)
  • 1 cup almond milk mixed with 1 Tbsp white vinegar (replacing sour milk or buttermilk)
  • 1 medium egg
  • 1/2 cup brown or white sugar
  • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 cup tapioca starch
  • 1/2 cup sorghum flour
  • 1/2 cup almond flour/meal (Avoid Bob's Red Mill's almond flour, as it seems to be too heavy for baking. I order mine from nutsonline.com)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon safe baking powder (Be careful if you need to avoid corn and gluten! Hain Pure Foods makes a cornstarch- and gluten-free baking powder)
  • 1 cup peeled, finely chopped apples
In a large bowl, combine the oats and almond milk/vinegar and let stand for a few minutes so that the oats absorb some of the liquid. In a separate small bowl, beat the egg and oil together. Add to the oats/milk mixture along with the sugar. Beat well with a wire whisk. Mix together the flour, baking soda, salt and baking powder in a separate bowl, then add to the oat mixture. Mix until all of the dry particles are moistened, using about 20 or 30 strokes by hand--do not over beat! Add the apples and mix in quickly.

Spoon the batter into a dozen lined muffin cups. Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Allow to cool for a few minutes, then remove to a wire rack. Fabulous for a healthy snack or breakfast-on-the-go!

*adapted from Hillbilly Housewife's recipe for Oatmeal Muffins

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Twinkle, Twinkle

Do you find that blogging helps you work through your emotions? asked my sister the other day, as I was venting to her in a long-overdue phone conversation.

Yes, yes I do. In fact, it was a crucial part of working through my depression and anguish and slow healing when my first marriage imploded, not to mention dealing (at long last) with a number of other issues that bubbled to the surface when I finally got help. Read my archives from 2009 and see what I mean.

Writing is a release for me, but I have discovered that I need an audience in order to write effectively. Private journals are worthless. Emails to a handful of people feel...insufficient. Blogging is a perfect solution, right?

Except that the anger and stress and anxiety with which I am dealing right now aren't mine to share with the world. Well, I mean, they're my emotions and whatnot, but they're about people and situations that leave me voiceless here. To write about what's going on would violate people's privacy and, quite possibly, make the situation worse.

So I'm usually silent. On here, at any rate. And Facebook.

(Because I'm not going to be one of Those People, that's why.)

***********************

Christmas is a shining light in the midst of this swirling darkness, let me tell you. Or, more aptly, an array of twinkling lights. We have pledged not to go so overboard financially this year (I got a little carried away last year), but there are ways (other than the obvious wallet-related one) in which that's better anyway. I am thinking more carefully about what to get for each person, and I'm making a few as well. I'm also working with the kids to choose gifts for MTL and each other, because I believe strongly that children should give and not just receive.

I love making gifts for Christmas. It takes me back to my own childhood, when my sister and I rarely had any money of our own to spend on gifts for our parents or each other. We would make a sign for our bedroom door declaring it official Santa's Workshop territory and denying entrance to everyone else. Then we'd take odds and ends of this and that, raiding our mother's extensive craft cupboard for much of what we needed, and we'd make all sorts of amazing gifts. Looking back, I'm rather astonished by our creativity. Two different years we created panoramas for our mother. The one I remember most was this extraordinarily detailed rendition of a market stall, with "bolts" of fabric on the walls, little drawers made from matchboxes containing bric a brac, and people made from twigs and clothes pegs and beads. There was a woman with braided hair trying on a shoe (a singleton from a Barbie pair), a male merchant displaying cloth, and a woman unmistakably meant to be our mother examining the fabric.

This, my friends, is what happens when kids have lots of free time and no real access to electronics of any kind. IMAGINATION. CREATIVITY. FUN. <insert cantankerous grumbling about "kids these days">

I'm fairly certain the month leading up to Christmas was the one time of year my sister and I actually worked or played together in Peace and Harmony.

So this year I'm making a few gifts, and I'm helping my little KlutzGirl, who is never so happy as when making or drawing something, to make a few as well. In those moments, looking at the work of my hands and knowing that I'm demonstrating my love for the recipients in a very tangible way--that's when those lights twinkle brightly enough to drive the shadows aside for a breath of time.

***********************

Part of the challenge of blending families is blending holiday traditions. MTL and I have been fairly fortunate. We aren't in direct opposition with any of it, especially since his traditions are more general and mine more specific. Last year I introduced a number of Christmas traditions to my new family, including putting an angel on the top of the tree, making Christmas Eggs for breakfast, and forbidding the children to leave their bedrooms on Christmas morning until they hear Christmas music start playing. When they emerged at last, impatient and excited, they found the Christmas tree piled 'round with presents, candles lit, and hot chocolate waiting for them.

They seemed to enjoy it, but one never knows how kids will react to New Ideas. On Sunday as we were waiting in the car for MTL to join us, The Padawan asked if we were going to do Christmas morning the same way this year.

What do you mean? I asked.

Like the music, he replied. I liked waiting until I heard the music and then coming down. Oh, and are you going to make those egg things again?

You mean the Christmas Eggs? I asked.

Yeah! Those were awesome.

Yeah! I liked all that too! chimed in KlutzGirl. And the hot chocolate and the candles and stuff. Are we doing that again?

As if I'd miss the chance to see those smiles on their faces!

***********************

This morning I proctored the first half of the PLAN test, since it's being administered to all the sophomores today and my first class of the day was a sophomore class. As I wandered up and down the aisles in the gym, I felt a sudden surge of warmth wash over me. These kids, these teens...they're annoying and frustrating and obnoxious as hell on a daily basis, but I love working with them. It's hard to remember sometimes these days, surrounded as we are by such negativity and derision directed toward my profession. I'm even looking into a new career path, because realistically I may not be allowed to remain in my career for sheer financial and political reasons. It's an ugly time to be a public school teacher, people.

But this morning, as I looked at row after row of faces, many of which I know, I felt the warmth and worth of what I do (yes, even when proctoring a damn standardized test), of working with these children caught on the cusp of adulthood. They are worth the sweat and tears and stress and time we pour into them every day, every week, every year.

I don't know how much longer I'll be a teacher, and I won't feel those warm fuzzies every day, but no one can make me regret the years I spend here.

***********************

It's a rough road I travel, at times. As my dear friend Amy said a couple of weeks ago, we are not women destined for smooth and easy lives. It would be lovely to win the lottery and not have to worry about money or debt any more. It would be lovely for the politicians to all have epiphanies and start working for the regular people instead of the corporations. It would be lovely for certain individuals to either undergo miraculous personality transformations or just....disappear.

I don't think any of those are likely to happen, alas. Life is not that neat and tidy.

But there are compensations. There are rewards for the pain. Sometimes the twinkling lights and silver linings are dimmed by the shadows and mist, but they exist.

They shine in the moments when my students understand a new concept, get excited by a piece of literature, and find safe harbor in my classroom.

They shine in the smiles on my children and stepchildren's faces, can be heard in their laughter as they rough and tumble with each other each afternoon after school, siblings in action and deed rather than just name.

They shine in the touch and looks and words of my beloved husband, who laid his head against me last night and told me he had never dreamed he would ever find his Home.

Twinkle on, Life. Twinkle on.

...laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life's not a paragraph

And death i think is no parenthesis

--e. e. cummings

Friday, November 11, 2011

Counting in Tongues

--Uno--

Yesterday was Parent Teacher Conferences, which means that today my brain has the approximate operating power of your average pudding cup. Unlike previous years, when I examined the schedule, observed the impending doom, and wisely arranged for my students to be involved in quizzes or independent projects or the like (therefore validating the wonderful people who consider me to be an overpaid babysitter, of course), my planning this week lacked forethought. One half of my brain noted that I needed to make sure my husband and The Ex and various and sundry other persons were filling in that day, since I would not be home until after bedtime for the Littles. The other half merrily planned away, somehow under the impression that I would be capable of such teacherly feats as grammar instruction the day after conferences.

That part of my brain was wrong.

--Deux--

My seniors are instead reading a Challenging and Opinionated Article on personal conscience vs. social conscience, inspired by the classic play Antigone. Somehow my brain was able to get involved in a rather interesting debate on whether or not medical practitioners should be able to refuse to perform medical services due to moral objections, such as surgery for ectopic pregnancies. I find it endlessly fascinating that the moral and philosophical debates that existed thousands of years B.C.E. are still so relevant today.

We then strayed into the delicate arena of The Great Abortion Debate. I was a bit nervous, but it went rather well. We didn't even get shouty, despite widely varying perspectives and beliefs. How sad that a bunch of high school seniors are more capable of polite debate than our politicians.

--Drei--

We aren't supposed to have the kids this weekend, yet somehow it has become filled with Kid-Related Activities. The Padawan will be staying with us, since he has hunter's safety classes on Saturday and Sunday. KlutzGirl has a birthday party to attend on Sunday that will require us to get her from her mother's rather earlier than usual.

I'm hoping we may manage to grab an hour to ourselves somewhere in there. My hopes are not high.

--Четыре--

Children are exhausting. How is it that I wound up with so many, again? And how is it that somehow I realized the other day that if disaster occurred and one of our children had a baby as a teen, I would want to raise the baby?

I question my sanity on a regular basis.

--A Cúig--

DramaBoy turns six on the 25th. His first birthday wish list included an XBox, a Wii, and a variety of games for both systems.

We laughed and told him to try again.

Have I mentioned that he already plays Portal, DragonBall Z, and Minecraft like a pro, all games which make me throw up my hands and despair? I'm so proud.

Sigh.

--Έξι--

We have kittens. I don't think I've mentioned this. I caved to family pressure and the ridiculous cuteness of photos posted by a friend, and agreed we could adopt another kitten. When I went to pick up said kitten, the aforementioned friend tricked me into playing with her siblings. Her little sister kept hiding under my pant leg and peeking out at me.

I brought home two kittens instead of one.

So now we have adolescent Halo (who moodily varies between freaking out over the invaders and trying to play with them), shy and sweet Oreo (the original intended adoptee), and outgoing/cuddly/extremely loud-and-squeaky Shadow (who purrs instantly when touched and has a monotone meow stuck on Loud and Demanding). Both of the kittens are Lap Kitties, so we are now guaranteed lapfuls of furs and purrs whenever we sit down.

Sometimes insanity pays off.


--Seven--

I love my husband.

That is all.

Friday, October 28, 2011

My Mind is Smushy. Much Like Pumpkin Puree.


I haven't done one of these in ages, but it sounds about right today. Quick takes are about the only kind I have energy or time for, and hang the dangling preposition too.

-1-

My brother, DorkMaster B, turns 25 today. This is impossible, as he is still 8 years old. At most, 9. Of course, there are compensations for his annual flaunting of my increasing decrepitude. He's much more useful than he was--erm, is?--at 8. Not to mention much more fun with which to play games (take that, preposition!). Still. A quarter century? Next thing you know I'll be turning 40 or some such sh*t.

-2-

My Daddy will be spending the weekend with us. The children are all in transports of joy--well, at least the three younger ones. The Padawan is being very cool about it. He is thirteen, after all. I am quite happy about it, and hope that his puns and gentle humor will help shake both me and MTL out of our funks.

-3-

You know what it's like when you know you're partially at fault for something but don't really want to admit it because dammit you also have a bit of your own point, but at the same time if you keep being stubborn about it you'll never come to peace with the person you love most, but at the same time you are miffed that he's being a stubborn--um, something--himself, and mostly you just want to curl up in his arms and forgive and be forgiven but stupid responsibilities like work make it impossible and you know that it's a conversation that needs to be made in person rather than over gchat or email?

Please tell me you do. Because it sucks. Par for the course for October this year, though.

-4-

I am not good at admitting to faults and hypocrisy. I do not like being Wrong about something, dammit.

-5-

I made pumpkin muffins last night, and they were delicious. The Padawan was delighted. The Widget was delighted. I was delighted. I don't know if anyone else is delighted or not, since I have not witnessed them eating any as yet. Here's the recipe (as I made it, properly modified for a Food Sensitive Household, adapted from Allrecipes.com):


  • 1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin puree
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 cups raw sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup almond flour
  • 1 cup sorghum flour
  • 1/3 cup tapioca flour/starch
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg or allspice
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Directions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Line muffin tin with muffin papers.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the pumpkin, oil, sugar, and eggs. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves; stir into the pumpkin mixture until well blended. Fill muffin tins.
  3. Bake in preheated oven for 30-35 minutes.

OR double the recipe above, grease and flour three 9x5 inch loaf pans, and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour. The top of the loaves should spring back when lightly pressed. 

-6-

We keep saying that we're going to save money towards a minivan, and each month somehow there's no money to save. We need to figure this out. I suspect the children. It's always the children.

-7-

I have so much grading to accomplish this next week that I feel like my head is likely to explode and my hands be worn to stubs. My students keep pointing out that if I wouldn't assign work, I wouldn't have grading to do. They have a point.

And if you want to read something more interesting than my fatigued babble, go check out Jen!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Weak and Weepy

I've never been particularly good at admitting my weaknesses. The sorts that can be deprecatingly laughed about, like my lack of self-control when it comes to shoes or dark chocolate with raspberries, my obsession with the numbers on radio volume control, my tendency to twitch when I see apostrophes used for plurality...fine. Those are the sorts of weaknesses we fondly call "foibles," those little quirks of personality that transform us into special little snowflakes, possibly just a touch flakier than the next one over.

But real weaknesses? The sort that require trips to therapists, medication, incredible patience on the part of those who live with us?

Not so much.

I spent at least three years mired in high-functioning postpartum depression because I couldn't bring myself to ask for help. I was so good at hiding the despair poisoning my soul that most people made all sorts of admiring comments on how Together I was, what a SuperWoman I was...Ha. It didn't help that the one time I did tell The Ex that I thought I was depressed and in trouble, he told me to suck it up. I kept my mouth shut for another six months after that, and by then I had fallen so much further that I almost didn't make it back out.

I've come a long way since then, but I still struggle to admit that I'm, well, struggling. I have the few individuals who are "safe": DraftQueen, Heidi, Amy, and of course MTL. I don't fear judgment from them, in part because they have all Been There in one way or another, and because they love me for who I really am rather than who I would like people to think I am.

And...I just realized I'm doing a very good job of avoiding what I came here to say. You see what I mean?

Enough stalling.

I struggle with anxiety and depression. It's nothing like what I once experienced, especially the depression aspect, but I deal with anxiety on a daily basis. I'm even (gasp) medicated for it (shh, don't tell anyone) (because we all know that people who have to take medication for that mental crap are nutjobs and shouldn't be trusted), because panic attacks have a nasty way of interfering with one's ability to get through the day.

I have a feeling I always will. For one, it runs in my family, on both sides. For another, studies have shown that highly intelligent women are also highly prone to anxiety, because we overthink EVERYTHING. Mother Nature giveth and she taketh away with the other hand, the stingy bitch.

Oh, and I do kind of have a stressful life, despite the many delightful compensations.

I've been struggling this week. I've been a good girl and taken my little pill every morning, and I still find myself short of breath, my arms burning, my heart racing. I haven't had a full-fledged panic attack (thank you, pharmaceuticals), but I've come close. I keep telling myself and others that I don't really have a good reason for it, but I suspect I'm lying.

I've dealt fairly well with my grandfather's death. After all, he was old and in pain and he passed so peacefully. It's the way to go, you know? BUT. He was the first of my grandparents to die. And watching my grandmother face life without her beloved...I think that struck too close to home. I can't stop thinking about what it would be like to have to keep going without MTL.

I struggled with that reality last year, when something made me realize that I had allowed MTL to get closer than anyone else in my entire life. This meant that I also had opened myself up to incredible pain, because losing him would be like losing a part of myself. I remember weeping one night and finally confessing to him that I was terrified of letting him in that much, because it meant that one day he would die and I would have to deal with that pain.

He didn't tell me I was being silly (though he would have been fully justified in doing so), rather telling me that he understood my fear, but that we couldn't allow our fear of death and losing each other prevent us from living life and loving fully.

He was right.

So I'm not falling apart over the thought now, but that fear and anxiety are finding other ways to make themselves known. And let's face it, I'm not good at dealing with this.

What do you do about your anxiety? What works? Because I'm asking for help.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Au Revoir, Grandpere

To the seeing again...

That's the literal translation of the French farewell, and it is what I say to my grandfather. He passed away quietly, peacefully on Saturday evening, traveling from this world to the next between one breath and....

The day before, my father had purchased some summer sausage and cheddar cheese, two of my grandfather's favorite foods, long since forbidden due to dietary restrictions. But what of a diet so near the end? He had barely been able to swallow anything for days due to the edema. On Friday, he ate sausage and cheese for three meals, delighting in the rich tastes he loved. He woke Saturday and had his bowl of Cream of Wheat. After changing clothing, his last traces of energy drained away and he closed his eyes and began slipping away.

I got the call from my father during breakfast. MTL came home early from work and he drove me up to Saginaw, where we joined other family members gathering to say their au revoirs. We spent the day talking and laughing over memories, watching my alma mater Michigan State University trounce their rival University of Michigan for the fourth year in a row, and comforting one another. We held vigil in a sense, gathered together in mutual love for the once-hearty, now-frail man lying under blankets in his armchair, not quite in a coma but not fully with us either. We touched him, spoke to him, assured him of our love.

Finally, knowing he could linger for another hour or a couple more days, MTL and I took our leave. I kissed my grandfather one more time, told him that I loved him, and we drove away. As we left, one of my aunts was putting on some of his favorite music.

Fifteen minutes later my father called to tell me that Grandpa had passed.

When my time comes, I want a similar passing: peaceful, quiet, surrounded by the love and laughter of those I love most. I want my ashes scattered in a beautiful place where they may join the earth from which I was formed. And I'll see my grandfather again, along with my aunt and others who have gone before.

Au revoir, Grandpere. Je t'aime.

Until we meet again.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Rage, Rage Against the Dying of the Light

My paternal grandfather, who is 93, is in the last days of his life. We have no real idea how many days this may be, but his edema and congestive heart failure have transformed into a vicious cycle feeding each other, and the medication that was supposed to help the edema instead shut down his kidneys, so now he is on hospice care.

It's the long, dark tea-time of his life. Only less dark and more light, because if there's anything his decline proves, it's that he is wealthy beyond imagining in what matters: family and love.

His five surviving children have gathered from hither and yon, including my father, who flew back from West Africa on Sunday evening. I took the day off on Monday and drove him up to Saginaw, where he joined his siblings in caring for their parents. I spent several hours there as well, more so to comfort my grandmother, who is too frail to care for him physically but is still emotionally tied as ever to her beloved husband of seventy-one years.

I know it seems morbid, she confided, but even though I don't want him to go, at the same time I don't want it to last too long...

I understand. It's incredibly difficult to witness the painful decay in my grandfather, the more so because he has always been such a strong man. He is a fighter: he will not go gentle into that good night.

I come from sturdy farmer stock, German Mennonites on both sides who traveled from land to land fleeing persecution for their pacifist beliefs. All four of my grandparents are still alive, still independent, still in compos mentis, though age is taking its toll on them all. This grandfather is the oldest. Five years ago, at age eighty-eight, he re-sided their house and put in new windows. Up until a year ago, he could still be found in his basement workroom, crafting the gorgeous woodwork that graces all our houses. Picture frames, clocks, jewelry boxes, bookshelves, rocking horses, detailed classic automobile models...all his children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren own beautiful pieces that will be handed down from generation to generation. That was his hobby, the work of his hands and heart at the end of his days working the land or overseeing factories and warehouses or doing Master electrical work. The delicate curves of the clock on my mantel, the enormous bookshelf against my wall, the jewelry box on my dresser, and the incredible wooden rocking horse in my children's room: they each declare all the love that my reticent grandfather struggled to put into words.

I'll admit that witnessing this final fight has struck me to the heart; even more so, witnessing my grandmother's grief and my grandfather's determination not to leave her side, this woman he has loved for longer than most people have been alive.

I don't even know how to put into words the fear that is triggered by this. I just found My True Love recently. I know the chance of getting seventy-one years with him is somewhat slim, since we met in our thirties rather than our teens, but I want as many years as I can get. And the reality is that my family is longer-lived than his. How horrible a person am I to want to go first, when my time comes? I don't want to be in my grandmother's place, facing the loss of her life companion, the one she loves best in the world.

I have hope and faith in a life hereafter, but I am a creature of this world. Each loss leaves it a dimmer place, caught in the shadows of sorrow and death.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

(Mis)Adventures in Domestic Divinity (Part One)

(Because the likelihood of there being more than one part is VERY high.)

So I mentioned that I made chicken stock this week, right? It's a fairly simple thing to do, provided one plans ahead to a certain extent. I save the peels and ends of any vegetables and greens I use in my cooking. The outer layers of onion, celery tops, carrot peels, leek greens--even apple peelings, actually--all go into gallon-size Ziploc bags and get stashed away in the freezer. Then when I have a couple of chicken carcasses, I throw it all in the largest heavy pot I have. I add a bay leaf or two, any odds and ends of fresh herbs that might need using--whatever I have on hand. I pour water over the lot, enough to just cover all the bones and scraps, and bring it to a boil. Finally, I turn the heat down to low, pop a lid on the pot, and let it simmer all night.

(You can do the same thing with a turkey carcass or any pork/lamb/beef bones you might have after a large meal. You can even blend them together. That's the lovely thing about the "recipe": it'll work for whatever you have!)

In the morning, I take the pot off the heat, let it cool a bit, and then put it in the fridge to chill. Later I take off the fat, an easy process when it has solidified on top of the liquid, and voila! I have lovely stock which can be canned or used right away.

At least, that's what usually happens.

Here's what you SHOULDN'T do, if you ever decide to try it out:

1. Underestimate the quantity of bones and scraps you have in the pot and overestimate the amount of water you need to pour over it all.

2. Realize you're going to get into trouble when it starts boiling, so pull out another smaller pot and transfer some of the makings into it, adding water to both pots to compensate.

3. Grab the first lid you can find that fits the smaller pot, rejoicing because the pots and pans cupboard has become a chaotic mess ever since KlutzGirl took over putting away dishes.

4. Go to bed believing catastrophe has been averted.

5. Wake up around 3 a.m. from a dream in which something strange is burning. Realize that the smell has not vanished with the dream. Lie in bed for a while trying to get your sleep-addled brain to process what might be going on.

6. Wonder suddenly if the stock might have overflowed or something of the sort.

7. Grab a robe and rush downstairs to check.

8. Walk into a kitchen filled with smoke streaming from the smaller pot. Realize that the lid you grabbed had a steam vent, and as a result all the liquid has boiled away. Open the lid to discover a disgusting mass of charred, reeking remnants of bone, cartilage, and vegetable scraps thisclose to bursting into flames.

9. Spend the next half an hour cleaning up the mess, salvaging the pot, and trying to air out the house. (This will not happen, and the house--and all its inhabitants--will reek for the next 36 hours or so.)

10. Crawl back into bed next to your husband, who has amazingly enough slept through the entire ordeal despite a freakishly sensitive sense of smell. Thank your lucky stars, because he will mock you enough when you tell him in the morning, without adding the extra delight of being woken by the marvelous stench of burning bone in the wee hours of the morning.

NOT THAT I WOULD DO ANYTHING LIKE THAT.

I think my halo is slipping.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Of Food and Family and Fabulousness

I seem to have drifted away from the world of blogging in recent months. I swear to you that it doesn't even enter my mind most days.

This could be, in part, due to the rather alarming number of things for which I am responsible during the course of a day now. I keep looking at my life in astonishment, wondering when I became the SuperWoman that I used to pretend to be back in the Bad Old Days of post-partum depression. The sheer level of logistical planning alone explains why the idea of sitting down and chatting with all my virtual friends doesn't have a chance of occurring.

Today, for example, there is a full day of teaching, after which I shall rush home and cook meat for chili and then rush off for my bi-weekly hour-long tutoring gig, and then I shall battle the horrendous afternoon traffic that turns two-and-a-half miles of driving on one road into a fifteen-minute ordeal so that I can pick up The Widget from daycare. We shall then battle our way home, where he will be shoved off to change clothes while I hurriedly put together the rest of the chili and plop it on the stove to simmer. We shall then rush off to The Widget's new dance class (5:30-6 pm on Thursdays) so that he can learn to shake his booty even more adorably than he did at our wedding (though there may never be anything so adorable as a tux-clad Widget doing the Chicken Dance). Then we can finally return home and collapse in the bosom of my rather large family.

I should confess that when I was planning the menu for this week, I completely forgot that I had tutoring today and would be so rushed. My True Love and I were therefore kerflummoxed about how to feed The Ravening Horde tonight until I realized that I could most likely manage the chili in stages. When I announced my realization to MTL, he (bless him) simply said, Just do what you can without killing yourself.

I think that may become my daily mantra.

Oh! But tonight I also need to pressure can the homemade stock that is chilling in the refrigerator after a long night of simmering into golden glory, and I should probably make some bread or something, since I have nothing to feed The Widget this weekend other than the fabulous and oh-so-simple roast chicken that was our meal last night.

I didn't mention that I've transformed into a Domestic Demi-goddess, did I? I know. I'm as astonished as you are. My only real online interaction with the outer world is on Facebook these days, and I keep posting statuses about all the amazing things I have baked/cooked/canned, partly out of a craving for jealous adulation and partly because seeing it in print makes it suddenly real and explains why I'm so exhausted All The Time.

You see, The Widget has inconveniently developed a host of food sensitivities, much like his older brother DramaBoy did at the young age of one. The Widget's are simultaneously less and more inconvenient than DramaBoy's were: on the one hand, he can have eggs and yeast and tomatoes and citrus fruits and canola; on the other, he cannot have corn or millet or buckwheat or legumes. The rest of the inconvenient items on the (long) list is rather similar. No bovine dairy, no soy, no garlic, no rice, among other things. Oddly enough, watermelon and cantaloupe are high on the reactive side, which makes us feel rather guilty about the enormous quantities of watermelon that disappeared down his throat over the course of the hot summer.

The big No-No, however, is gluten, and unlike the other items (which we should be able to reintroduce to his diet after a period of cleansing and rebooting his system), this will likely remain permanent. One of the tests indicated that if he continues to have gluten in his diet, he is likely to develop Celiac Disease and/or another nasty anti-gluten syndrome.

So. Our new reality. Since we have the boys every other week now, I spend every other weekend baking interesting breads and muffins and cookies, all with Funky Flours like sorghum, tapioca, quinoa, almond, and arrowroot. At least I can MAKE real bread: DramaBoy could not have eggs or yeast, so it was impossible to create anything other than fruit breads for him.

We also are making and canning all sorts of things like spaghetti sauce and stock and apple butter and various delicious jams (though to be fair we had started making our own jam before we had The Widget tested).

And the entire family has begun drinking almond and coconut milk rather than dairy, since MTL and The Padawan are lactose-sensitive anyway, and we discovered (to our surprise) that the Silk brand of both is cheaper than Lactaid, and contains less fat, more calcium, and the same or more vitamins than dairy milk. We're also doing much more gluten-free and homemade food in general, since it's simpler to cook for everyone rather than making two separate meals, and we want to start eating more healthily anyway.

So, much to my surprise, we are becoming alarmingly Crunchy, and I am discovering that I actually rather enjoy being domestic. Mind you, it makes all the difference that MTL does some of the work too, and that I have a horde of children who are all assigned chores and responsibilities. Who would have thought that having four children at home would actually be easier than having only two?

Also, we have a wonderful lady who comes and does all the deep cleaning every other week. I may have transformed quite a bit, but I'm perfectly content to leave the toilet-scrubbing and floor-mopping to someone else, thankyouverymuch.

Well, there you are. MTL is thinking of getting a second Xbox at some point so that he can have his own and play games online with his friends and The Padawan (who monopolizes and technically owns the one we have now), and if that happens, I may find myself with time in the evenings to chat with you all in this space while keeping him company.

All my snarky love in the meantime,
Mrs. MTL

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Exasperating Case of the Insomniac in the Night Time

I am crawling through my day on approximately zero-point-four hours of sleep last night which, last time I checked, doesn't come even close to the amount of sleep I need to babble even semi-coherently at the Raving Rabble that still insists on inhabiting my classroom periodically throughout my day. I mean, the seniors are gone--other than the occasional ones who pop in unexpectedly to bring me senior pictures and tell me that I am awesome and they will miss me horribly and YAY! I CAN ADD YOU ON FACEBOOK NOW! and all that, which, hey, practically makes me miss the Mangy Maggots--

(can maggots get mange? somehow I doubt this, but I rather like the nastiness of the alliteration and will leave it be.)

(hey, it's my blog and I can even stop using capital letters OR WRITE ALL IN CAPS if I want to--so there)

(I really need some sleep)

(Where was I? Oh yes.) --but the juniors and sophomores persist. On top of expecting me to rehash every piece of text they've SparkNoted read all semester, little glints of hope sparkling in their eyes that I will give up and just tell them the answers for the test, they expect me to actually read and comment on and grade the massive term papers that I sado-masochistically assign every year. WHY DO I DO THIS???? I ask myself every single f***ing year at this time as I gaze in doomy gloom--or gloomy doom, whichever is dominant at the time--at the massive pile of seven-to-ten- (sophomores) and ten-to-twelve- (juniors) page papers that threaten to smother me in a paperlanche. Of course, this year I had them all submit their papers electronically to the wonderful electronic plagiarism catcher slash online grading service we use, so it's all threatening me VIRTUALLY, which is interesting. At least this way there's less chance of Death By Papercut.

On top of that, I have gradually gained a sense that I am Not At All Well over the course of the day, including feeling rather feverish, developing a sore throat, and (since that wasn't enough) becoming increasingly nauseated.

(NOT NAUSEOUS, which is the error everybody makes these days that drives me absolutely batshit insane, because being NAUSEOUS means that it/one/you CAUSE[S] NAUSEA, not that you HAVE it. People feel NAUSEATED, dammit, and while some people may in fact be nauseous, like the nasty-piece-of-work senior who burned his last bridge with me two weeks ago and will NOT be getting friended on Facebook thankyouverymuch, that is not what most people are attempting to indicate. THAT WORD DOES NOT MEAN WHAT YOU THINK IT MEANS.)

Ahem.

To add just a little more spice to our day, we went into a level one lockdown a short time ago, which means they aren't allowing people in or out of the building because there's a perceived threat somewhere in the area. It's the lowest level lockdown, but I have no idea why it's happening or when it will end. Because, you know, today wasn't enough of a Mondayish sort of Monday already.

The silver lining in it all is that my fourth hour sophomores cheered me up with their depictions of starfish of varying ethnicity and religion on the dry erase board, something that originated with a perky Jewish Starfish in a markered mural that gradually developed over the course of last week. The mural started with a cartoon turtle (a rather adorable one, much like the turtle on our class t-shirt with the joke word "intelligous" we had made last semester) with a speech bubble declaring I'm a turtle!, and it developed from there. The Jewish Starfish (a six-pointed starfish, naturally) showed up toward the end, along with a School of Attici--the plural form of "Atticus" (from To Kill a Mockingbird), obviously.

It's an....interesting class.

Okay, fine, maybe I'll miss those pesky students a little bit after all.

But right now? Right now I just want some french bread, a snuggle with MTL, and my bed. Preferably in that order.

Crumbs are so uncomfortable when they get in the sheets.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Blog? What Blog?

Holy crapola. Really? It's been that long since I posted anything? I feel like I'm failing you all.

Life. Is. Crazy. Which is why I'm back on crazy pills, because when I started having mild panic attacks I figured I should get some help before they developed into not-so-mild panic attacks and I end up rocking back and forth in a corner somewhere. God bless modern pharmaceuticals.

My therapist and friends all agree this was actually an indication of how far I've come in the last few years, considering I asked for help BEFORE the crazy became The Crazy. Just sayin'. Also: I love my people. There's nothing like a time of high anxiety to bring home just how awesome a support structure I have these days. Not the least of which is a very, very beloved and supportive MTL. The hurricane winds may be blowing, but the foundation is holding firm.

So. My seniors are gone.

Excuse me a minute while I go do a happy dance.

[Insert holding music here]

Whew. They're gone, they're out of here, I managed to get all but two out the door to graduation, some squeaking through by mere tenths of a percentage point. One huge load is off my shoulders: only several dozen left to carry!

My juniors and sophomores have been very patient the last few weeks as I've neglected grading much of their work in order to focus on the seniors. Now I have time to wade through their essays, including their massive term papers (seven to ten pages for sophomores; ten to twelve pages for juniors: EACH). I have exams to create, quiz and test grades to enter, and a classroom to clean and organize. I can do that in the next eight school days, right?

Right.

Dammit. I left my meds at home.

Probably the biggest source of stress (now that the seniors are--GLORY HALLELUJAH--gone) is the impending shift at home. I can't go into all the details here, but there have been massive changes chez MTL's Ex, and the girls are moving in with us.

And there's an element to the situation that I can't discuss--yet--but suffice it to say: DRAMA WILL ENSUE.

So. Yeah.

Nothing to be anxious about. Nothing at all.

OH! There is one lovely new addition to my life! Are you ready for this?

I. Got. A. Smartphone.

Oh yes. I, the phone-technophobe, have officially Grown Up and gotten a phone that's more like a hand-held computer than a phone. A Droid X, to be exact. And I just may be in love. MTL says that I'm acting like a kid who's had her first ever taste of chocolate.

Angry Birds? Check.

Words With Friends? Check.

Sudden addiction to apps? Check, check, and absolutely check.

Hmm. You think they have a support group for that?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Shadows

I'm at a point where I'm internalizing so much stress that I'm no longer trusting my reactions or judgment. I feel like a volcano bulging with pent-up magma, ready to explode at the slightest fracture. My neck and shoulders are bunched up, my throat aches, my head throbs, and acid burns down my esophagus. It would only take one wrong word for me to erupt in rage, tears, or both.

It's no one thing. It's everything. It's the buildup of all sorts of stress and fears and worries and hopes and aggravations. It's the fatigue of the year drawing to a close. It's the frustration of senioritis. It's the lack of sleep, the lingering effects of whatever respiratory plague attacked me last week, the sense of dread as wave after wave of bad news and potentially disastrous now-we-wait-and-see news rolls in about loved ones and politics and money and everything else in this seriously fucked-up world.

I don't always deal well with stress. Okay, fine, I rarely deal well with stress.

MTL thinks I need to take a mental health day. I hate to do that. I have few enough sick days left, and I tend to hoard those for truly necessary sick leave (mine or, more likely, kidlets'), as I know all too well the financial impact of unpaid sick leave when those days run out. I do have a couple of personal business days I haven't used that will vanish if they aren't used, but I have to request those at least three days in advance, and anything further out than Thursday just isn't possible. I have senior project presentations, junior speeches, senior exams, and then the rest of final exams filling every available slot.

I'm just so TIRED. Not just physically. Mentally. Emotionally. Spiritually. I can't even focus much on the wedding, because everything else takes up my attention. I can't look forward too much to the honeymoon, because a part of me dreads the possibility of having to cancel due to financial or other reasons. I don't want to have my heart too set on that in case it's pulled out of reach.

It's as if there's a threatening cloud looming over everything. I'm struggling to find the light through the shadows.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Thankful

One of my friends and coworkers, the one who met me last night out on the practice field along with a couple of hundred other people for Nate's candlelight vigil, said on her Facebook that students don't realize that impact is not just one way. It's not just us, as teachers, impacting our students' lives. They impact ours as well. Every day we come into contact with dozens of students, and they affect us just as we affect them. She's right. I am not the person I would have been without working with the hundreds of students I have seen in my eleven years of teaching, both as an intern and a certified teacher.

My students know that I struggle with names. My brain has a disconnect between name and face, so very often. There are some that are seared into memory, for good or evil, true, but even if I know a student very well, I often freeze up and completely forget his or her name. They're generally kind about my forgetfulness. In turn, I reassure them that it is nothing personal, and that I do know who they are.

I never forgot Nate's name. I don't know if I ever would have.

Last night I had the opportunity to speak briefly at the vigil, after we had lit our wind-threatened candles and people were able to share stories and memories about this boy who had touched all our lives. I said that his father had asked me which year Nate had been in my class, and I struggled to remember--not because I didn't remember him, but because it felt as though I had known him for much longer. Then some former students reminded me that I had him during his junior year, and it all came back to me.

The year I had Nate in class was most definitely not the easiest year of my life, I said, and laughter broke out around the huge circle from all the other former students who remembered. It hadn't been. That was the year my life had fallen apart, the facade of strength and happiness and a decent marriage crumbling as that marriage imploded and I literally disappeared from work for three weeks. I managed to hold things together once I got back to work, but barely.

Nate was one of the few people who could get me to smile, even on my worst days. He was no Pollyanna--he had a snarkiness and sarcasm that worked better anyway--but his smile lit up the room. He would bring me chocolate and food, because he knew that's what works with Ross. Just a few months ago he came in with a couple other former students to bring me lunch, because he knew I always forget my lunch. 

He was one of those people who make others feel better about themselves. He was one of the people who make the world a better place by being in it. I would have always remembered him, even without this tragedy. I will always remember him.

I'm glad I had the chance to share that with his parents, his friends, his Color Guard family.

Today has been a rough day, for various reasons. I'm here at work, and I'm getting things done, and I'm working with the students. But I'm not smiling. And in return, my students are being solicitous and cooperative. Several have checked to make sure I'm okay and not in the throes of deep depression--and I'm not, but I understand why they're wondering. A student who missed class because he slept in brought me donuts and a mocha and a tray of baklava as an apology (they know my weaknesses, these kids). One of the girls who always eats lunch in my room asked if I'd like her to bring in a slice of homemade chocolate cake tomorrow.

They're gentle.

They care.

As I sit here, not eating lunch because I have no appetite, but sipping on a cafe mocha from Tim Hortons, I feel a wave of thankfulness washing over me, pricking my eyes with tears.

They're my kids. They're the reason I stick with this job despite all the thanklessness and political bullshit.

And I hope that they will leave this school with memories of a teacher who made a difference in their lives, just as they made a difference in mine.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Tears

I'm angry and I'm crying and the only reason I'm still here at work is that if I go home I'll have nothing to keep me busy and occupied. Laundry and cleaning don't count because there's too much time for thinking.

This last weekend one of my former students was in a terrible car accident in West Virginia, on his way to an audition that would hopefully continue to move him along in his amazing gifts for music and dance. He suffered horrendous head trauma and has been in a coma all week.

This morning he died.

It's not right. It's never right, but it seems so particularly horrible when it's a bright, brilliant nineteen-year-old like Nate. He was one of the memorable ones. I can't remember a day when he didn't have a smile or funny comment to brighten up the day--and not in an annoying Pollyanna way. He made people feel better about themselves. He had a sweet confidence and joyful soul like few people I've met.

Just a few months ago he came into school with a couple of other former students to bring me lunch, because I always forget lunch, and because gifts of food are always welcome. He was full of hope and laughter over what he was doing in college, where he was going in life.

And now he's gone. And his mother will be facing her first Mother's Day without her son.

I hate this part of my job. It's always tragic when people die, but even more so when they are young and all that life and hope and potential is snuffed out long before time. This isn't the first time it's happened, but it is one of the hardest.

Rest in peace, Nate. You will never be forgotten. Thank you for making all of our lives just that much brighter during the all-too-brief time you were here.

Monday, May 2, 2011

A Day In The Life

5:45 am--Alarm goes off. Wake blearily, turn it off, and fail to leave bed when MTL pulls me back in for a cuddle.

5:54 am--Nudged out of bed by MTL. Stumble into bathroom and take a very quick hot shower. Thank God that the tummy bug that attacked yesterday seems to have had a 24-hour duration.

6:05 am--Brush teeth and get dressed. Kiss MTL goodbye.

6:10 am--Leave safety of master bedroom to wake the mini monsters. Discover that due to yesterday's illness and failure to do kids' laundry, there are absolutely no jeans for either monster to wear, and no clean 5T shirts. Sigh because all the 5T jeans and/or pants have vanished into the black hole of The Ex's custody anyway. Give DramaBoy a pair of 4T highwater slacks and a shirt that almost qualifies as a three-quarter length sleeve. Instruct both boys to get dressed with NO WHINING OR TEARS thankyouverymuch.

6:13 am--Return to master bedroom and slap on a touch of makeup. Attempt to convince hair not to flip out today. Give up and go downstairs.

6:17 am--Realize that due to yesterday's illness no coffee was prepped for the morning brew. Sigh. Make sure both self and MTL have a bit of cash for coffee on the way. Get a second kiss goodbye.

6:18 am--Do a half-assed job of half the basic physical therapy exercises that should be done every morning. Give up on the remainder when the boylets descend.

6:22 am--Organize getting snacks, breakfast-to-go (a.k.a. dry cereal in baggies), and shoes/outer wear on boylets. Realize that garbage stinks to high heaven, grab the bag, and take it out to the garage. Discover that MTL is charging his car battery, which is dead. Again. Stupid car.

6:27 am--Realize that I never checked DramaBoy's backpack over weekend and do a quick run-through. Write out the RSVP for the Mother's Day Tea at DramaBoy's kindergarten class that I will not be able to attend, but for which my beloved mother will take my place. MTL ducks back in to say goodbye for real this time and give me my third goodbye kiss. Wish the weekend didn't go by so quickly. Resume efforts to get kids out the door.

6:38 am--Finally pull out of the driveway.

6:45 am--Get to daycare, say goodbye to the boylets, and rush back out the door.

6:48 am--Pull through McDonald's drive-through to get fruit & maple oatmeal and a large coffee.

6:54 am--Finally get to work.

7:15-2:19 am--Teach classes. Mix of quizzes, project discussions, and teaching kids how to do MLA formatting and use Microsoft Word. Wish that today's so-called "tech generation" actually knew how to figure out basic technology for academic purposes rather than mere social networking. Also become irritated by students' continuous inability to keep silent until every single quiz has been turned in. Spend lunch reading hilarious entries on Parents Shouldn't Text. Laugh uncontrollably. Decide perhaps I will survive the day without suffering an aneurysm. Resume classes and have this decision challenged.

2:19 pm--School hours officially over. Chat online with Heidi while finishing up a bit of work and reading the remainder of Parents Shouldn't Text archives.

2:46 pm--Head out to accomplish List of Errands. Head to school employee credit union to finish closing out bank accounts and the safety deposit box, since apparently they can't close out safety deposit boxes on weekends.

3:16 pm--Leave former credit union irritated that the exact same people who were there on Saturday were the ones who did everything today, and there was no apparent need to wait two days. Roll eyes over red tape. Call The Ex while driving to remind him to look for the 5T jeans that have vanished in his custody. Mutually agree that we will no longer dress DramaBoy in 4T pants. Period.

3:30 pm--Visit current credit union to deposit money from old accounts and order new checks. Text MTL about new banking status.

3:40 pm--Get phone call on cell. See MTL's last name on the screen and answer, Hi baby! Hear the utterly confused and somewhat mortified voice of The Padawan saying, Uh. Hello? in response. Feel like one of the parents on Parents Shouldn't Text.

3:45 pm--Get home to grab last "coupon" for $50 off rent. Fill out a list of essentials needed so that The Padawan and DMB can be clean (thank God), as well as groceries for the week. Assign them to clean the kitchen and get a load of laundry in the washer. Text MTL about new shopping plans.

3:57 pm--Head out again. Pay rent. Head down to The Children's Place to purchase 5T jeans. Discover they are having a 25% off sale on denim. Gratefully purchase two pairs.

4:38 pm--Receive call from MTL (for real this time) checking on shopping plans. Agree that money should be transferred from wedding savings account to checking in order to cover costs this week. Again. Stupid car. Stupid rent. Stupid children wanting to be clothed and fed.

4:45 pm--Grab necessities and food from Meijer. Indulge in a cold Coke because it looks too good to refuse.

5:15 pm--Get home. Kitchen wonderfully clean, although the extremely stale and possibly sprouting remains of The Widget's birthday cake still glowers balefully from the side counter. Am not amazed that both boys failed to see or discard it. Decide to take care of it later. Get another load of children's clothes going and fold dry laundry.

5:50 pm--MTL arrives home from work.

6:00 pm to present--MTL showers. Leftovers for dinner, which means we all (much to my relief) simply fend for ourselves. MTL and I collapse on the couch and pull out our computers while turning on a DVRed episode of "The Mentalist."

7:20 pm--Post this blog post, amazed that I actually found something to say. Even if it is just another day in my life.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Seven! Seven Things To Count! HA HA HA HA HA! (Insert Crashes of Thunder)

It's been AGES since I've done something as spontaneous and yet meme-ish as a Seven Quick Takes Friday, as originated over at Conversion Diary, but something bloggish in me woke up and said, Today! Write today! So I am. Except I can't get Count von Count's voice out of my head, for some odd reason, so we'll be doing this his way.

--One! One Quick Take! Ha ha ha ha ha!--

This morning I pulled on new jeans purchased on sale from Old Navy yesterday. They're the same style that I always wear (I am, apparently, The Flirt), but one size up. It was rather marvelous to pull on jeans that don't feel like sausage casings. I am sad to report that MTL's birthday gift to me is still sitting in the corner of the living room. I've used it about four times, which means that each seven minute ride cost about $50. Damn, but I'm out of shape. I keep swearing I'm going to do something about it, and then the siren song of the couch drowns out everything else.

On a positive note, MTL appreciated being able to actually grab my butt this morning as he walked by on his way out the door, rather than encountering the immovable force of straining denim. There's always a silver lining.

--Two! Two Quick Takes! Ha ha ha ha ha!--

Upon arriving at daycare this morning, The Widget informed me that he felt like throwing up. He then proceeded to do exactly that. All over his shirt and the floor, with a bonus splattering on one of my shoes. Although he did have a nasty stomach bug last weekend, I have a strong suspicion that this morning's gift was the product of too much sinus drainage (thank you, environmental allergens!) and his refusal to swallow the chewed-up Claritin chewable pill that ended up on the floor along with the semi-digested remains of last night's tacos.

News flash: I have apparently lost the cast-iron stomach I developed during those early years of parenting. I was unabashedly grateful that he threw up on the daycare's floor rather than mine. All I had to do was wipe him down and get him back into the car. God bless the heroic and plastic-gloved daycare teacher who tackled the floor.

--Three! Three Quick Takes! Ha ha ha ha ha!--

I can't say I'm thrilled about how often The Ex's girlfriend is at the house. This has nothing to do with her--I rather like her, truth be told, and I'm relieved he's moving on and I'm happy she's good with the kids. I do, however, resent that I'm still paying almost half of the mortgage on a house I don't live in, and that I'm essentially paying for them to live there. Trust me, I only agreed to this in the settlement for the kids' sake (plus she wasn't staying there back then). And yes, there is a time limit, but still. Don't even get MTL started on that, either.

However, I did find myself rather grateful to discover that she was there this morning and doesn't have work today, because she's able to watch the Widget. For some reason daycare centers don't let vomiting children stick around.

--Four! Four Quick Takes! Ha ha ha ha ha!--

I love my coworkers.

Thanks to one of them, my students were able to enter my classroom, be made aware of the situation, and get started on their work for the day. I was only ten minutes late to work, but mine is not a job with flexible start times. Thanks to another, those kids also had a watchful pair of eyes during those ten minutes. You'd be amazed what a bunch of juniors will try to do during ten minutes' unsupervised time.

Sometimes I wonder how much of a difference there really is between my job and a kindergarten teacher's.

Oh, right. We don't have recess.

--Five! Five Quick Takes! Ha ha ha ha ha!--

Speaking of kindergarten, DramaBoy is currently going through a phase of Marvelous! Wonderful! Near-perfect behavior! both at school and at home, which is a lovely respite from phone calls about how many kids he's hit on a given day and battles over how many bites of that horrible healthy food he'll have to eat tonight. I'd enjoy it more if I didn't keep waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Also, since children learn how to tag-team at birth, The Widget is In A Mood almost every day right now. I'm fairly certain he was flung into a maelstrom of jealousy, insecurity, and angst by having his eight-month-old cousin around for a few days and having to Share Attention--particularly from my parents, whom he views as his personal attendants. I mean, how DARE they?

Not that I would know anything about how that feels, or ever tormented The Widget's cousin's mother for coming along and dispelling my belief that the universe revolved around my three-year-old self. Nah. I wouldn't have done that. Ahem.

(Sorry, SoccerSister. Again.)

--Six! Six Quick Takes! Ha ha ha ha ha!--

I hate politics.

I know this isn't news, but I think it deserves restating.

And while I will not, out of deference to DraftQueen's sensibilities, say that I hate all politicians or that they are all corrupt and horrible people, I will say that I have very little faith in most politicians.

However, if Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert ever run for office, I'm voting for them.

Just sayin'.

--Seven! Seven Quick Takes! Ha ha ha ha ha!--

The Old Spice commercials are awesome. In fact, an Old Spice ad torn from a magazine is clipped to my inbox where I can see it and be reminded to smile. Not because Isaiah Mustafa is pretty decent eye candy (though he is), but because the sheer over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek ridiculousness of these ads brings a little sunshine into my gloomy days.

I wonder if they'll have any effect on lowering the acceptable age for men to wear Old Spice. MTL can hardly wait until he's allowed to wear it, in fact--and felt that way even before these ads. Fortunately, I'm not allergic to that particular cologne.

In the meantime, I'll just keep enjoying the ads.


You're welcome.

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

What Dreams May Come (Dammit)

I rarely remember my dreams these days. I will wake with a vague impression of what has been spinning through my REM sleep, but even the wisps of memory remaining slip out of reach within a matter of minutes. My friend Heidi experiences lucid dreaming, for pleasure or pain, but other than a few youthful recurring dreams that, well, no longer recur, I don't recall what I dream.

I do know, however, that I dream. I'll wake with the emotional remnants of my sleeping experiences, most strongly when I am working through anger or sadness or, most especially, anxiety.

Ah, anxiety dreams. There's nothing quite like stumbling through one's morning routine with a vague sense of impending doom. It adds a certain murky spice to one's coffee.

Last night I had anxiety dreams: more specifically, financial anxiety dreams. I'm a worrier, and I have become hardwired to worry about money over the last few years. When we first moved into our townhouse and were wading through the changing finances of combined households and moving and the start of school, I had financial anxiety dreams resulting in restless sleep and (according to MTL) distressed mumbling. He had to wake me up a few times and reassure me that we were not, in fact, about to be consumed by an avalanche of arrears.

I don't think I was mumbling last night--certainly MTL shaking me to wakefulness had more to do with hitting the snooze button too many times than sleep talking--but I've been stumbling through my day with a weight of disquiet on my weary mind. I'm a zombie today. A zombie with a bank account that mutters dour reminders that bills are impending and rent is due in a few days and groceries have not been bought and, oh yeah, there's a rather significant function occurring in just over 108 days (according to that oh-so-handy and also slightly intimidating countdown clock at the top of this page) that requires saving money to cover the balances due in a few months...

We are by no means destitute, and I openly acknowledge that our problems are what Heidi likes to cheerfully call "first world problems." Food makes it onto our table, our children are clothed, we can cover our bills if we maneuvre things just so this month, and we have two incomes.

BUT. I look at my debt, which is high regardless of the reasonableness of its existence (student loans and the like). I look at our vehicles, which are both old--MTL's is no longer reliable for long distance travel--and neither of which are large enough to contain our entire family. I look at our credit rating, which is not high enough to get the kind of loan we need to pay off a certain debt that ties me too strongly to The Ex and the millstone of an upside-down mortgage for a house I don't even live in.

I wonder if perhaps we are foolish to spend this money on a wedding and honeymoon. There are those who think we are, whether they say so openly or no.

AND YET. We are spending less on the wedding and honeymoon combined than many people spend on just a wedding dress or wedding flowers. We certainly aren't spending irresponsibly in that regard. And there's a part of me--the part that is emphatically winning--that says it is somehow important to celebrate this event, that a courthouse ceremony isn't right for us, that we are not unreasonable to gather family and friends and show that YES, we love each other this much....

I don't know.

I'm tired and the Michigan skies are moistly gloomy today. Add that to the anxiety and depression of being told by The Powers That Be that my peers and I are somehow simultaneously Too Essential to be allowed to strike/negotiate/be heard and also Too Despicable to be treated with respect and human (ha) decency....

I suppose I'll take anxiety dreams over panic attacks. Brown paper bags aren't the most glamorous accessory.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Cravings

I've been "turtling" lately: pulling my head and limbs back inside a protective shell in an instinctive effort to avoid being overwhelmed with Everything.

I don't even want to get started here, as it's all or nothing for me. Either I'm silent or I'm ranting. I normally have fairly low blood pressure--lately I can feel my heart pounding and my face flushing as a matter of course.

What's happening in this state, in this country, to educators and the regular government workers (not the politicians themselves, of course) and the middle class in general....

I'm sick to my stomach.

I need to find a career counselor. I've never had a back-up plan because, quite simply, ever since I discovered teaching I've never planned to do anything else.

What DOES a thirty-three-year-old woman with a Bachelor's in English Literature and a Master's in the Art of Teaching, with certification in English and Speech/Theatre have as a back-up plan? I'm eminently qualified to do exactly what I do. Who else is going to be knocking down my door to receive my services--especially for a wage that will continue to pay back my thousands of dollars in student loans and the other debt that I've incurred as a responsible citizen? None of which, mind you, is credit card debt or the like.

I can feel the rant rising.

We're short on "extra" money right now--not that there really is such a thing in our household lately, since pretty much every extra penny is being set aside to pay for our quite modest little wedding and honeymoon. MTL's car broke down last week and required a bit of money to repair, even though he did the repairs himself. His machine at work has also been broken, meaning his hours have been trimmed back a bit. We had a dual birthday party on Sunday for The Widget (my baby is FOUR!) and KlutzGirl (MTL's baby is EIGHT!). In three months the remaining balances are due for our ceremony and reception sites and for our honeymoon.

With all that financial stress bearing down on my mind, I can feel an age-old destructive stress mechanism kicking in. I want to buy things. I want to buy fun things, pretty things, wonderful escape-from-reality things. I want to buy books and clothes and shoes and art. I want to buy gifts for my bridesmaids. I want to buy all the accessories I want or at least need for my wedding day. I want to buy it all NOW.


I didn't give anything up for Lent this year, but I'm reminded of when I gave up chocolate a few years ago. Despite what you may think, I don't normally crave chocolate every day. I can even go a few weeks without thinking about it. Shocking, I know, but true. But when I denied myself that luscious substance, the days dragged by. I woke craving chocolate. I went to bed craving chocolate. I nearly cried when I realized that my (then daily purchase of) Cafe Mocha contained chocolate and therefore was verboten.

Impulse buys and non-necessities are off my shopping list for now--and likely for some time--and so I'm craving what I cannot have. Perhaps after a few weeks I'll find the craving wanes and leave me feeling freer, just as I did during that Lent years ago.

In the meantime, I'm staying off Etsy and Amazon and Victoria's Secret and Old Navy and every other website that urges me to indulge, treat myself, think It's only a few dollars. I have my tiny list of five necessary items which I will take to the grocery store this afternoon, and I will not buy anything except those five items. I pinkie swear.

Monday, April 4, 2011

I May Be Barefoot In The Kitchen, But I Swear I'm Not Pregnant

Today was the first day of Operation Clean House. I'm calling it that because at this point I lack the creativity to come up with an awesome name, like Operation ThunderHawk or some such shit. Besides, while the results are awesome, the process is, well, not.

Now, lest you suddenly picture me amidst a near-avalanche of trash and clutter, a la the pitiful people on my obsession of the last few months "Hoarders" and "Hoarding: Buried Alive", let me assure you that in point of fact we keep the house remarkably neat considering it regularly contains a pack of tasmanian devils kids. I've shocked my parents and former roommates with my current tidy tendencies, MTL breaks out in a rash when he sees clutter, and we gratefully employ a wonderful woman to come by every two weeks to do the deep cleaning. Not to mention that we firmly believe that one of the benefits of having children is that child labor laws do not apply at home.

Nevertheless, the house could do with a proper spring cleaning. Last weekend we put the kids to work on their domain--the bedroom and the game room--instructing them to not only put things away properly but to also put the trash in the trash bag rather than tossing it into the nearest toy box, and to fill additional boxes with the toys and clothes they no longer use.

I tell you, if there are any people with serious hoarding tendencies in this domicile, it would be the freeloaders non-rent-payers around here.

After hours of fighting and fussing decluttering and cleaning, their bedroom and game room are finally fit for human habitation, and I no longer feel like weeping when I walk through the hall. The chances of seriously injuring myself have also decreased.

This week is Spring Break, and it is also our break from children. The boylets are down in Florida with their father, being spoiled outrageously by their grandfather and other relatives on that side, and MTL's children are all with their mother this week.

NO CHILDREN FOR TEN DAYS.

Excuse me while I break out into spontaneous celebratory dancing.

----

Whew. Where was I?

Ah yes. Spring Break. Now, before you go off muttering about spoiled teachers sleeping in every day (I can hear you, MTL!!! Stop that!) take a look at my agenda. OK, fine, not really, but imagine it at least. Not only am I diving into some wedding planning and spending valuable time with my sister and her adorable if exhausting seven-month-old son, I also have major chores written in for each day. It's time to get serious about cleaning house, peoples.

So today was the kitchen. I roped DMB into the task, and he scrubbed the refrigerator while I emptied cabinets and pantries and threw things away and sorted and organized to my heart's content. Do I love doing it? Well, okay, sort of, since there's a part of me that loves doing that sort of thing every now and then. It's the same part that finds folding laundry soothing, especially when done in front of a TV watching one of those hoarding shows and patting myself on the back that I am so much better than that.

Hey, MTL likes cleaning the garage every now and then, too. I'm not the only weird one.

I can't say that I love the first part of this task, though, which involves pulling out all the food and finding out just how old that jar of mayonnaise actually is and how long that box of pasta mix has been hiding in the back corner. Since I'm trying to be a responsible recycler, it also involves emptying all those nauseating jars and tins down the garbage disposal.

My scented candles saw use today. I also appreciate sliding doors and stovetop fans. Just sayin'.

I won't tell you how many bags of garbage went out today on DMB's back. I'd like to keep my shame at a reasonable level.

Anyhow, I'm enjoying the ability to close the pantry door without something falling out. Not to mention opening the fridge without being forced a step back by the odor of Something Gone Off.

Tomorrow I'm tackling our walk-in closet and the master bathroom/bedroom before I head out to search for a wedding dress with my mother and sister. Wednesday the great room will submit to my ministrations. And Thursday I get to sort and organize the books that have crawled off the bookshelves and strewn themselves on every surface. Maybe I'll even find money somewhere to purchase the much-needed additional bookshelves that MIGHT brhttp://www.blogger.com/post-create.g?blogID=4078483744873792132ing our collection under the semblance of control.

Right now it's time to whip up a chicken pot pie for dinner so MTL has a nice hot dinner when he comes home from work.

Am I crazy, or am I getting positively DOMESTIC over in these here parts?

Don't answer that.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Oh, Hello

I have been notified today that apparently some of my beloved readers are concerned about my lack of posts. So I'm here, although without much in the way of Wonderful Words of Wit and/or Wisdom.

I'm okay.

But I'm tired.

I'm tired physically, with not enough sleep at night and not enough sunlight as this long and dreary winter drags on and on. I don't care what the calendar says, IT ISN'T SPRING. Not here in Michigan, at any rate. We get hints and teases here and there, but I've long since learned not to get my hopes up. Not until after Memorial Day, really, and that's a good couple of months away.

I'm tired mentally, because it's that time of year and I have seniors (oh dear God give me strength) and am teaching three core classes including one that has a brand new curriculum and please shoot me if I ever agree to do such an idiotic thing again.

I'm tired emotionally, because the grim reality of politics and society in this state and this country and this world has me threadworn.

I need a break. I need some solid time filled with rest and laughter to give me the wherewithal to fling myself back into the fray. I'm hoping I'll get some of that this next week on Spring Break. The boylets are in Florida with their father (and have been since Sunday) and won't be back until the 10th. While I do miss them, I have to admit...I can use the break from mommying as well. The Padawan will be at his mother's during the next week as well. The thought of DAYS (and nights) with no kids around at all has me and MTL doing the kind of happy dance that most parents would understand.

So...yeah. I don't have a lot to say on here right now, but I am okay. Hopefully this time next week I'll be at least good, and by the weekend I'll be great.

In the meantime, I'll keep obsessively reading the archived stories over at Etiquette Hell, alternating between horrified laughter and paranoid fear.

Carry on.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Style and Stylability

Warning: Many links to many amazing things ahead. I've already gotten a couple of other people hooked. This is fair warning. You may be as well...

****************************************

I've never felt like I have much of a sense of style when it comes to home decor. Other than the boylets' nursery, I've never even decorated an entire room. The Ex and I always had plans for the basement, when we finished it (we never even started), and for the dining and living rooms (we never moved beyond an area rug and some paint chips.) Even in my home with MTL, we never did get around to painting the bedrooms as we had planned. Time ran out, school started up, and other than choosing paint chips yet again...nothing. There are a few desultory photos and pieces of art on some walls, and decorative pieces placed on bookcases and the entertainment cabinet.

The most cohesively decorated room in our house is the downstairs half-bath, which has developed a soft seaside theme. It's nothing overwhelming.

I don't have much confidence in my ability to pull together cohesive, lovely interior design. I've doubted my instinct for it, and it's certainly never been put to the test. I was recently in the home of a friend-of-a-friend who had every room beautifully painted, with just the right decorative pieces and pillows and furniture and art. It felt pulled-together and homey and elegantly artsy. Even though I might not have made the same choices for my own home, I felt a streak of envy over her design instinct.

As I mentioned in my self-pitying moan yesterday, I've become addicted to Etsy.com, the home of many many beautiful handmade things (along with the downright bizarre and fugly, much celebrated on Regretsy.com, which I discovered first.) The brilliant and very artsy Heidi finally got me hooked on Etsy a few weeks ago, and I've been obsessed ever since.

As my list of favorite items and stores has grown, and as I've channeled my creative and obsessive urges into crafting thematic treasury lists, I've begun to recognize definite trends in what I like.

Apparently I am much drawn to stark, elegant trees and branches (like these pillows and these drawings and these incredible woodburnings and this pendant and this print collection and the breathtaking photography of a fellow Michigander). I can picture the art and pillows in my dream living room, with lots of wood and soft earthy tones in the furniture.

I knew that I like birds--at least when they're outdoors--but did not realize how much I love their images in art and jewelry until I started recognizing the trend in my Etsy picks. From stylized art to Poe-esque gothic photography to fantasy illustrations to incredible watercolors, birds appear in much of the art to which I am drawn. They even show up in some of my jewelry picks, sometimes combining both bird and tree, as in this elegant pendant.

I also love a number of quirky items, such as the work of the artists OddFauna and Kellie Schneider and Studio Lyon, as well as the slightly less weird but still left-of-center Eastwiching (check out the adorable foxes and elephants, especially!)

I'm beginning to create rooms in my head. I'd have the living room done with trees and birds. Animals and fairy tale creatures would frolic in kids' and guest bedrooms. I already have a huge gorgeous stick-and-ink drawing of three female figures in my bedroom (courtesy of my sister from her art class days), and I'd continue on that theme with work from artists like Krystyna and Kellie Schneider. (I don't think MTL would mind.) I'd increase our collection of wood carvings with work from the Natural Selection Studio and DD Wood Creations.

My dream house would be filled with rich earthy tones and soft blues and greens. Brighter colors would pop in accent decor. There would be wood everywhere, along with comfortable but streamlined furniture. It would be a place where I would be surrounded by beauty in every room, but where my heart and mind and soul would be soothed.

I have a home wherever I am with My True Love, but I can dream of a place that would our home in physical as well as emotional expression.

Now I just have to win the lottery...

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Ugly

It's one of those days--a day when I wake up in a ragingly foul mood and little can shift it during the course of the day. Thankfully, they aren't too frequent, but when they do happen, the best thing I can do is shut myself away from the world so that I don't turn into the Queen of Hearts and stomp around calling for mass decapitations.

I could not get restful sleep last night. I had odd dreams that I cannot recall but that nevertheless disturbed what little sleep I did get. I woke every hour or two, unable to get comfortable. MTL was also restless, and at times I couldn't tell whether he had woken me or I him. DramaBoy came knocking on the door at Dark Ay Em to report that The Widget was crying in pain with his ongoing bout of Unmentionable Difficulties. I soothed and medicated the poor boy, then crawled moaning back into bed.

By the time MTL and I dragged ourselves out of bed this morning, bickering over who should get up first to get breakfast going before the childrens filled themselves up with cereal, my temper was at DefCon 4.

Coffee (brewed by me) and a scrumptious breakfast (cooked by MTL) eased me temporarily. So did an indulgent session with my latest obsession, creating treasury lists on Etsy.com. But then I had to oversee the boylets in taking an overdue shower, an experience that never fails to frustrate me. And then there were the dishes to wash and the kitchen to clean. I bit my tongue the entire time, knowing full well that if I opened my mouth, whoever was nearest would suffer its lash regardless of cause. MTL finally paused in his own cleaning to ask what was wrong, and I nearly burst into tears. Scratch that: tears there were, though muffled and suppressed.

He, lovely man that he is, hugged me, reminded me that he loves me and that everyone else in the house loves me too (though sometimes I wonder), and suggested that perhaps I needed to hole up in the bedroom and rest.

So here I am. The door is firmly closed. My Emptyself station is playing on Pandora.com, I created another treasury list on Etsy, I chatted briefly with DraftQueen before she abandoned me for a trip to the fabric store, and now I'm pouring myself out here for what few readers I still have in these days of infrequent posts.

MTL is right--it's better that I shut myself away for a while, because the alternative could be ugly. It doesn't matter, though: I'm still fighting with the guilt. I can't help but think of all the things I probably should be doing right now. I can't help but be angry with myself for being in such a horrible mood in the first place. It's not like I even have a decent reason for it, other than a bit of sleep deprivation.

Argh and Grr. I need a real vacation.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Extremes

I find myself in an odd limbo, strung between utter happiness and gloomy despair. Utter happiness because in just under five months MTL and I will be married, and while I am having to watch myself carefully for signs of going off the deep end in preparations for the shindig, plans proceed apace and almost everything is falling smoothly into place.

We're overly organized, really. Honestly, the only reason I don't have the wording for our wedding programs completely set is because one of my beloved bridesmaids is still trying to figure out whether or not she'll be able to attend and stand up for me. Pesky miles. I keep telling her that she and her family should just move over here, but for some reason Michigan doesn't seem to be much of a draw right now...

Cue the other extreme.

The gloomy despair? All it takes is for wave after wave after wave of news and worse news flooding through the television and Internet and email. I love my job, but am seriously wondering if I will be able to continue teaching for much longer. The politicians of this nation and most definitely this state seem intent on destroying the public education system, and sadly enough, too many people seem quite willing to let them do so. I find myself in tears, considering a nation where only those who can afford to do so will be educated (whether through private schools or homeschools--because yes, you have to be able to afford to homeschool), where corporations will get even fatter off the profits of charter schools, where the Least Of These will be once again forgotten and shunted to wither away in their corners and holes.

We are not a democracy. We are not a republic. We are a corporate oligarchy, and the bloated barons are laughing as they feast on the fat of the land.
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