Saturday, March 31, 2012

2012 Slice-of-Life Story Challenge | 31

I grew up Mennonite, which usually shrouds my identity in a certain level of confusion. 
          “Do your parents drive a buggy?”
                          “Did you have electricity growing up?”
                                                 “Were your clothes handmade?”

Because in the media Amish = Mennonite and vice versa, most people are sure my family looks like this:
But, the truth of matter is that Mennonite does not equal Amish.  My family looks just like your family.   We drive cars, have power and all the modern conveniences you do, wear jewelry, cut our hair, and buy the latest fashions. 
In considering the many aspects of Mennonite culture, there is something easily distinguishable that fits in perfectly for us today, March 31.  I can tell you about it in three numbers: 606.
‘606’ is what Mennonites refer to as our version of the hymn, “Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow.”  (It’s actually the song’s page number in the old brown hymnal.)  It’s been regarded as the most Mennonite-y symbol of our Christian denomination because it’s a piece old and young in each congregation know by heart.  It’s traditionally sung a capella, with four-part harmonies that would make any choral purist smile, to commemorate a special occasion like dedicating a new building or surpassing an offering goal.   It’s fast-paced, emotion-packed, and a complete blessing.  It is engrained in who we are as a people. 
I’m sharing this song with you today because we’ve reached a milestone together: one we can celebrate as a writing community!  Slicing each day in March was no small feat; with heart we wrote, we read, and we commented.  We emerged stronger through the feedback we gave and received, the way we shopped for writing ideas in our peers’ blog posts and then tried them out, and most importantly, how we held exercised discipline each day through the “B.I.C. Principle.”  (Thank you for the wise words, Ruth!)
So, from me to you on this final day of March, here’s a little slice of celebration:  #606.  I hope you enjoy its simplistic brilliance…  Congratulations, fellow writers, on working so hard this month!
Write on,

Friday, March 30, 2012

2012 Slice-of-Life Story Challenge | 30

Dear Mommy,

I know we're just five minutes from home
and we've ridden in the car for almost an hour,
but I just couldn't keep my eyes open anymore.
I loved that Grandma came down to hang out with us,
and we had vanilla bean frappuccinos on the way to the outlet mall,
and enough snacks to keep me busy while we found new clothes and laughed.
We even had McDonald's take-out on the way home.
I want you to know that I think spring break is great
because I love it when we can do anything we want.  All day long.
I also love it when Grandma comes to visit.
She is the cheese to our macaroni.

Love you,

P.S. I think the clothes you picked out for me today rock.  Thank you. 
P.P.S. Sorry for the chaos in Stride Rite earlier...I just got excited about new shoes.  I wish you would've listened to Grandma because I really liked the Star Wars ones.  They lit up.  Next time, please?  Just think about it.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

2012 Slice-of-Life Story Challenge | 29

That night, the amphitheater's grassy hill was covered with a rainbow of blankets and the summer sky's tapestry transitioned from amaranth to star-kissed indigo.  That night, the band's harmonies enveloped us like the cool, comfortable breeze.  Sitting there, cozy, between Mom and Dad, I noticed my family looked like so many others spread across the moonlit space.  Twenty-something kid sandwiched by fifty-something parents. 

What was it about this show that made it a family affair?  This is what we were brought up on: late-sixties/early-seventies rock full of honest, poetic lyrics.  This is what we were here to experience.  Together.  The sound of our homes, our lives.  To reconnect and remember.  To celebrate. 

Just as Graham Nash struck a familiar chord on his keyboard, the crowd stilled in reverent recognition.  In appreciation.  In delight.  "I'll light the fire.  You place the flowers in the vase that you bought today."  He sang; we listened as if this were the very moment we'd waited a lifetime to experience.  Everything else dulled, dimmed, dismissed.

"Staring at the fire, for hours and hours, as I listen to you play your love songs all night long for me.  Only for me," his iconic voice and clear, crisp piano accompaniment enriched the splendor of our surroundings.  The hum of the audience grew to a crescendo as he launched into the first song I would ever teach my little one a few years later.  Everyone sang, almost involuntarily; family by family.

"Come to me now, and rest your head for just five minutes.  Everything is done."  Bandmates David Crosby and Stephen Stills swept in with harmonies, magical and pure, anchoring my memories of family car trips and my dad singing for me.  Only for me.  "Such a cozy room, the windows are illuminated by the evening sunshine through them, fiery gems for you.  Only for you."  Everyone sang louder, uniting for what was to come...

"Our house is a very, very fine house.  With two cats in the yard, life used to be so hard.  Now everything is easy 'cause of you.  In our house..."  With heart, Crosby, Stills, and Nash sang, the parents sang, the kids sang, all holding back tears for the changing times since this tune's birth in storied Laurel Canyon in 1970.   (This is where Graham lived in a little craftsman bungalow with his then-girlfriend, Joni Mitchell, who played her love songs all night long.  For him.  Only for him.).  

"La, la, la-la-la-la, la, la-la-la, la, la-la-la-la, la, la-la, la, la, la, la, la, la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la, la, la, la-la-la-la, la-la-la, la-la-la-la-la, la, la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la," the music center, turned choir loft, resounded its makeshift chorus. 

"Our house, is a very, very, very fine house.  With two cats in the yard, life used to be so hard.  Now everything is easy 'cause of you.  In our..."  Clunky chords signaled the song's close.  "I'll light the fire.  While you place the flowers in the vase that you bought today."

I blinked with eyes glassy and wet.  It was then that I knew these three minutes would take deep roots and sustain me for a lifetime.  That even years later, my mind and heart would hear the spontaneous chorus of parents and their kids "la, la, la-la-la-la"-ing together in uniform time.  That someday, even when my fingers are too arthritic to play this tune on my own piano, I will remember how I once sat on a summery, star-kissed indigo night in the middle of my parents enjoying this song by one of their favorite groups that had grown into my favorite too.

(And this has nothing to do with that fact that now we have two cats in the yard...)

Write on,

2012 Slice-of-Life Story Challenge | 28

It's been three years.

When I wrote about the parallels between my son's "Thomas and Friends" obsession and my little "Grey's Anatom" crush fetish a few weeks back, I didn't mention this small detail.  I haven't watched even one episode in as many seasons.  Before Reid was born, I made the command decision to stop.  I felt like I cared too I was personally invested in each of the main characters' I was completely unavailable for one whole hour each Thursday night because any interruption was uber annoying.  In short, I wasn't my best self by allowing conviction and compulsion to cohabitate. 

So I stopped.  Cold turkey.  No Derek and Meredith drama.  No modern, introspective songs.  No more of Izzie's cancer scare.  And no weekly catch-up chats with my mom who still watched... 

It's been three years.

But today, I allowed myself a couch afternoon while the little slept peacefully in the next room.  Today, when I flipped away from HGTV accidentally, an episode of Grey's was just beginning.  I watched it (and that's probably a misstatement).  I drank it in.  I felt the residents' sorrow over George's recent passing.  I nearly cried with Meredith at the episode's end when she finally allowed herself a moment of grief.  I cheered for Izzie as she gave the business to the girl whose life George died trying to save.  I melted when Karev admitted that he's nothing without Izzie and that her cancer had evicted his heart from their relationship --- he was just too scared. 

So, just like that old friend you hold onto fondly and see every once in awhile but when you do everything is the same as always...that's Grey's Anatomy to me. 

Write on,

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

2012 Slice-of-Life Story Challenge | 27

Hot Dish?!?

As a child, my round tummy and chubby cheeks served as a barometer for what my mom had most recently cooked.   Big tummy; the new chocolate chip cookies in the freezer.  Chubby cheeks; the ooey-gooey-cream-soup-based tater tot casserole we enjoyed two nights ago and then polished off as leftovers for two consecutive lunches.  Yep; I was that kid.  And even now, if I'm honest at parties and in social circles, I still love the same foods (and they still have the same effect!).  My comfort foods.  Foods that remind me of happy times growing up.  Foods that feed my soul first and my stomach second.  Foods that just plain sound good whatever the weather.

My husband and I have food in common; not the same foods mind you (that would be too easy)...but the love of food.  As Food Network junkies, we commingle our desires for the unhealthiest of unhealthy (cheesy, fried delights) and cooking acumen.  Mostly though, I think we watch to live vicariously through others because rarely do we really eat in this covetous, throw-caution-to-the-wind-kind-of-way.

As fate would have it though, a recent show surveying a variety of State Fair offerings from across the country made my heart race, my pulse quicken, and my memories of my mom's cooking leap forward.  It all started with the introduction of HOT DISH at Wisconsin's annual event one year.  (Hot Dish?  Seriously?  Could a meal's title get any more generic?)  To let the rest of the U.S. in on their geographic verbiage, Hot Dish refers to a ground beef casserole that is cream of chicken-soup based and covered with tater tots.

Ah!!!  THEY CALL TATER TOT CASSEROLE HOT DISH???!!!  So, it must be a German-Swiss thing since central European immigrants are scattered all over the Midwest...?

But, to kick things up a notch and State-Fair-ify this properly traditional offering, one quick-thinking concession stand transformed his favorite entree into a forkless, plateless wonder. (Obvious answer: Stick it, batter it, fry it.)

My favorite casserole, unctuous and savory, is now a fair food.  My favorite casserole, topped with tater tots, is portable.  My favorite casserole, with creamy ground beef, is probably available for the bargain price of $7.00 for a portion less than my bulging tummy would seek.

Should this spectacle arrive at my state's fair next season, I think I'd have to protest.  A casserole, such as this, involves an oven, a Pyrex, a table, a family, and a complement of applesauce.  It is not fast food; it is soul-feeding food.  It's my childhood.  It's my comfort.  It's the leftovers I can't wait to finish because sometimes they're even better the next day.  And, to save everyone the suspense, it's even worth the chubby cheeks.

Write on,

Carol's Tater Tot Casserole (For Wisconsinites: Hot Dish :))

  • 1 pound ground beef, browned with 1 diced onion.  Drain.
  • Add 1 can cream of chicken soup to meat, spread into a greased Pyrex    (Your call on pan size---thin or thick casserole?)
  • Layer frozen peas on top, salt a smidgeon for taste
  • Arrange tater tots over peas, covering entire dish
  • Bake for 1 hour at 375 degrees until browned, bubbly, and gooey
  • Serve with applesauce. 
  • Enjoy :)   

Monday, March 26, 2012

2012 Slice-of-Life Story Challenge | 26

A Wal-Mart sits conveniently a few miles from our house; but, we don't always go there.  We have a love-hate relationship with it. 

It's big.
      It's well-stocked.
It's busy.
      It's cheap.
It's dangerous after dark. 
      It's close. 

Sometimes I'd rather drive an additional 15 minutes to enjoy a Super Target shopping experience; today, however, I just didn't feel like making the commitment.  Besides, I've come to find out my Wal-Mart has a well-kept secret... 

I discovered it by happenstance a few years ago.  On one of those afternoons when I needed something specific and was under a tremendous time crunch.  I had no other choice but to hit up the store I hate any evening of the week and twice on Sunday.  It was Wal-Mart or nothing...and nothing wasn't a suitable option in our situation.  I drove the few minutes, fuming the whole way that we didn't live nearer a store I love.  But, arriving in the parking lot around 1:30, the clouds parted and the shine shone brightly.  This just couldn't be; so few cars.  What a coup from the typical Tuesday-after-work-trip on which my schema is based.  It was a cake walk to find a cart, make my way through the aisles, and score my necessities.  The patrons were kind and the employees weren't yet burned out from the post-work-harried-shopper sort 5:00 brings.  It was incredibly pleasant by this store's standards.

My Wal-Mart is full of retirees and stay-at-home moms while I'm usually at school.  I was reminded of this again today as Reid and I started off our spring break by traipsing through the store to pick up a few beauty items before launching into the gaggle of groceries.  The time was 2:00.  Ladies smiled at us; stay-at-home moms shared the secret-code-gaze all mothers offer up when in GROCERY LAND with a persnickety toddler; shoppers said "Excuse me," when meandering past in tight aisles.  In fact while in line, an elderly gentleman behind us struck up a conversation when he noticed Reid scoping out the, oh, 23 different types of yogurt he added to the conveyor belt while our order marched to check-out.

"Does he like yogurt?"

"Yes," I smiled politely from the other end of our lane, "he does.  Do you?"
Self-evident, b.  My mind wandered as I attempted to figure out how much time 
it actually took him to pick out his flavors and organize them in the cart...

"Yes, I sure do," he smiled, "Does wonders for the digestive system."

Sure that I heard him incorrectly, I smiled politely and offered a friendly chuckle. You know the kind.

You see, our Wal-Mart is close, dangerous at dark, cheap, and well-stocked.  But, the most important thing about our Wal-Mart is that it is not busy while everyone else is at work

Write on,

Sunday, March 25, 2012

2012 Slice-of-Life Story Challenge | 25

Part 3: And, the pieces connected...

This is the third, and final, installment in my "Bridget Jones"-like singleton tale.  If you missed the preceding two, please check out:

I had on my favorite outfit at that time --- a red turtleneck sweater, Gap Long and Leans, a warm chocolate brown coat, and my soft red, brown, and cream scarf.  I was comfy.  In my outfit.  In my own skin.  I knew tonight's coffee date was just another blip on my relational radar.  At least I knew I was guaranteed to completely love my chai latte. 

Parking, I mentally replayed our planning conversations.  "Meet me by the front door.  I'm reading a bright pink book right now, so that's what I'll be carrying with me if you're not sure who to pick out of the coffee shop's evening crowd."  I looked at the clock, fidgeting with my purse, my scarf...well, anything that was still long enough for me to mess around with it.  I wasn't late, but later than I wanted to be.  I wanted to avoid the whole awkward ordering sitch by arriving first and taking care of my own drink.

Through Starbucks steamy windows I could see someone waiting just inside.  Yes.  The guy in the picture.

I pulled out my smile, my hand, and my name.  "You must be Tom," I said matter-of-factly while taking the surface detail survey every single girl completes when meeting a guy for the first time.  Shoes and belt match, check.  Well groomed, check.  Warm smile, check.  Nice eyes, check.  Athletic, check.

We ordered, each committing to a grande, but were foiled.  The small crackerbox of a shop was cramped beyond capacity so we ended up at a bake house down the street for the second part of our date.  Like a duck to water, our conversation smoothly transitioned from pleasantries to deeper topics and back again.  We laughed, inquired, created, reminisced.  Well, until the bake house closed.  "Do you think we should try Starbucks again?" he asked.  My eyes grew big as my heart had grown over the past few hours.  He's not done with me yet.  "Sure," I sweetly supplied.  And, we did.  

This time, a  round table in the back our little java haven served as the perfect space for us to continue connecting the dots.  And, little by little the pieces in my heart's puzzle began to match.

I used to love that Jake designed buildings around our city; Tom does that too.
I used to love that Tom 1 was musical; this Tom is too.
I used to love that Rob had dark, beautiful hair; Tom has it too.
I used to love that Paul was funny; Tom is too.

My epiphany: this Tom is the complete package.  If I would take every little thing I loved about every other guy I dated in years past, this guy has it.  He's not perfect, but neither am I.  What I began to see was that we could be perfect for each other.

"It's late.  It's a school night.  My mom's a teacher and she never likes to stay up late, so maybe we should go.  Can I call you again sometime soon  Maybe we could go out for dinner?"

"Yes, I'd like that," I blushed with weak knees and a warm heart.

And, that's where our whirlwind courtship began.  Right then, right there.  A couple hours past my tall; a couple prayers answered at the corner of 62nd and Guilford.  I never looked back to singledom and neither did he. I never grocery-shopped at Wal-Mart on a Friday night thereafter.  

Exclusively dating for five months, we became engaged and were married  in a holiday ceremony downtown four months later.
Yes, I was 29 when I said "I do" but 29 is better than 30, right?  I was sure it was...
Two-and-a-half years later we had our first child.
We just celebrated our five-year anniversary, and yes, every fourth week of March we try to fit in a coffee date, at Starbucks, to remember the night we met :).

Write on,

Saturday, March 24, 2012

2012 Slice-of-Life Story Challenge | 24

Part 2...  I'm still pretty sure I won't like this one.
If you missed out on Part 1, check out my slice from March 23 before reading! :)

He was cute.  With warm brown eyes, the olive complexion I covet, and thick chocolaty hair, the guy’s picture in my inbox looked inviting.  Beside him, an adorable niece…which (any girl would admit) is a nice touch.  After all, I’m a teacher.  I like kids.  They stood by a pool…which made me think this is a family who enjoys playing together.  His athletic physique reminded me of my brother’s. 

But, I’m pretty sure I won’t really end up liking him. 
Not reeeeeeally.  Here are some captivating reasons why... 

Before, there was Jake.  He was beautiful, like James Denton on “Desperate Housewives.”  He was smart, creative, successful, and athletic.  He liked to have a good time.  (I should’ve put that in all caps).  And after a few months of trying, he said I wasn’t someone he could fall in love with.

Maybe this one won’t think so either…

There was Rob (also known as 'Airport Guy' because I met him in Denver while waiting for a flight back to the Midwest).  He was dark, handsome, educated (a PhD and MDiv), and a real go-getter.  Oh, and did I mention he worked a prestigious medical center in Minnesota?  M-i-n-n-o-s-o-t-a.  First problem right there.  But, despite several sporadic visits, he didn’t make my knees weak.  Ultimately, I had to be the heartbreaker.  (And, I had to be the recipient of his mother’s hate mail.  Yes; it's true.)

Maybe this one won’t make my knees weak either…

Then, there was the bevy of guys I met and dated after being paired up on eHarmony.  I resorted to e-love after the string of relational train wrecks I’d engineered. 
  • Ryan lived in Seattle.  Too far.  Too rigid.  Too many months invested in an esoteric pursuit.  Note to self: implement mileage restrictions; small search radius = higher chance of success. 
  • Tom lived here in my city and worked as a high school band director.  Too many extra-curricular activities.  Too little prioritization.  Too many family issues.  Note to self: When people date, they should want to spend time together. 
  • Paul lived in Kentucky.  Too silly.  Too irresponsible.  Too far.  Note to self: only date one guy at a time...two is too confusing.  ("Did I already tell you that?" shouldn't be a conversational staple.) 
Maybe this one won’t be right either…  Yes.  I’m pretty sure I won’t like him.

Until we talked on the phone the first time.  He actually called like he said he would.  His friendly voice shared and asked.  We connected.  We planned to meet --- not for dinner though; just for coffee.  (Make mine a tall...drink's gone; date's over..) 

In my mind, a running film strip of dating disasters.  In my heart, a perpetually hopeful being.  Someone.  Somewhere.  Sometime.  I just knew it.  Theoretically faith trumps experience, but humanly that’s a little more difficult.    

Starbucks, 7:00, Tuesday night. 

Write on,

Friday, March 23, 2012

2012 Slice-of-Life Story Challenge | 23

In my former life, I was perpetually single.  And, I completely felt like it with an army of married friends just starting to have families.  Here's part one of my tale...

Out of the blue one day, my girlfriend called.  Expectantly and with intention, I could tell.  "Will you meet my dental hygienist's brother?" she pushed after pleasantries.

"Really?"  I kept driving, mystified by the common mathematical equation individuals follow when 'looking out for the unattached's best interests' --- one single guy + one single girl surely = a marriage.  "Do you know him?  Have you seen him?" I prepared to dig.  After all, this routine was becoming all too familiar.  28.  Single.  Nice.  "Why aren't you married by now, Honey?" acquaintances would badger. 

"No, but each time I get my teeth cleaned his sister is so nice.  She talks about her big family and how great they are.  I know family is important to you," she reasoned commonsensically. 

In my mind a film reel of past set-ups shuttered, slide by slide.

There was Pete. 
Sales pitch from real estate coworker: "Pete is a nice guy. Everyone loves him.  You'll love him too." 
My remarks: I didn't.  He was ten years my senior.  I found this out at the restaurant where we met for the first time.  And no, it wasn't the lighting...  We struggled through dinner.  Note to self: a whole meal is too much.  Coffee dates are shorter; less painful. 

There was Glen. 
Sales pitch from family doctor: "Glen's an anesthesiologist.  He's smart, funny, and has a great job.  You should really meet him.  You'll think he's great." 
My remarks: I didn't.  He was vain, conceited, and stuffy.  We went out a few times; it was a few times too many.  I was bored and I certainly didn't need any help with that.  Bored is grocery shopping by myself at Wal-Mart on a Friday night.  Check.

There was Chicago Architect (I totally don't remember his name!)
Sales pitch from portfolio adviser: "He's the nicest guy.  You'll think he's definitely the marrying type.  He's so sweet.  I've known his family my whole life --- they're the best." 
My remarks: He was nice.  He was sweet.  But, both traits in overabundance are unattractive...and potentially insincere.  We met.  We talked.  We ate.  I left.  The end.

And, then there were all the other guys I'd somehow met....who were good for a string of texts, a periodic phone call (I began learning this was just too difficult for some people), a smile, a noncommittal coffee date, or perhaps the full-blown dinner and a movie date.  A roller-coaster ride more like it --- a fast, fun start; a hill or two; then a quick return trip to the station.  My biggest lesson: not to expect too much.  Guys, in my experience, were just flakes.

"Well, Andrea...I don't know.  This fix-up just doesn't seem like something that will work.  You know my past experiences.  But, send me his picture.  Then, maybe we'll talk."

Write on,

Thursday, March 22, 2012

2012 Slice-of-Life Story Challenge | 22

Sunshiny days make me want to do things…things like:

Eating a mint oreo blizzard outside: Spring starts in the Midwest when walk-up-window Dairy Queen franchises open.  Seriously, when I drive by one (and for the record, this is every day), the solitary thought romping around in my mind is “Do I have time to stop today?”  I never do, but I always think about it.  There is nothing better than a freezy, creamy, melty ice cream break on a warm, sunshiny day.

Sitting at a picnic table under the arbor at Tree’s Drive-In:  Nice weather means my hometown root beer stand is preparing to open.  It is out in the country along a main highway.  It has carhops to take orders and bring delicious fried treats.  It serves the best kind of root beer (as far as I’m concerned): A & W.   And besides, most of my small town will be there too because each family had the same idea --- Let’s eat outside!  Going to Tree’s is a welcome addition to any warm, sunshiny day…

Trying to tan my paper-white legs: I’m melatoninally challenged.  Yep, you read that right.  Try as I may, tanning is not part of my skill set.  But, on sunshiny days, I pull up the capris (or if I’m feeling daring…I actually wear shorts!) to give it the old college try.  I wish I had one of those nice, already-tanned complexions…but I don’t.  I’m a Swiss blonde.  I still make an attempt to tan on a warm, sunshiny day.

Imagining there is a palm tree draping lazily overhead: Anyone who lives in the Midwest is an expert in southern beach destinations.  We have to be.  It’s the only way we make it through our {typically} long, cold, bleak winters.  My first trip to Florida in elementary school left me coveting --- a palm tree.  My parents broke the news that it wouldn’t survive our harsh winters at home, so to me, a palm tree is an unequivocal symbol of a warm, sunshiny day. 

Piecing at a cup of frozen lemonade: Warm, sunshiny days remind me of fairs.  Every small town has a fair.  For one weekend in the summer.  When it is blazing hot.  With any kind of fried food you could ever want.  But even all that is just too much.  Heat and fried foods aren’t well suited mates.  The natural refreshment of frozen lemonade is the only treat that will do on a warm, sunshiny day .

Today is a warm, sunshiny day.  What will I do?
Stop at Dairy Queen on the way home,
See if they have frozen lemonade,
(then I could kind of merge two of my favorite activities…)
Put on shorts for a walk with my boys and tan these pesky white legs,
Visualize palm trees in our neighborhood to replace the hum-drum oaks…
Tree’s Drive-in?  I’ll have to work on that one with a little more diligence.
Even Daylight Savings doesn’t support a two-hour drive for a root beer stand dinner…

Write on,

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

2012 Slice-of-Life Story Challenge | 21

This first grade classroom...

Bright, cheerful colors envelope guests, students, and their artsy teacher
Peace signs and posters showcase ‘can-do’ personalities
Cozy cushions and books welcome readers who enjoy savor learning
A gallery of student art honors hard-work and creativity
Beautiful, purposeful charts anchor their buzzing beehive
Love.  Life.  Joy.  Inspiration.
You can feel it in this first grade classroom
for a second

Skies cloud, rain falls, memories return
All because
one name, her name,  
                                shows up
                                             again and again
                                                                     on class charts
“What do we keep up?”
“What do we take down?”
Between tears, the young and fragile teacher asked
her bereavement counselor one morning just two weeks before Christmas.
Take it as it comes…” she consoled.  “Your kids are hurting right now and so are you.”

Nothing came down,
except one nametag on the students' work tables
She’s on the data wall
                                   the favorite book list
                                                                    the birthday poster
                                                                                                  the diagram of reading spots
Just like the rest of her classmates, she’ll move off these boards
when the doors close, the halls quiet, the lights dim one last time

Bright, cheerful colors envelope guests, students, and teachers
Peace signs and posters showcase their ‘can-do’ personalities
Cozy cushions and books welcome readers to enjoy savor learning
A gallery of student art honors hard-work and creativity
Their special space anchored with beautiful, purposeful charts
Love.  Life.  Joy.  Inspiration.
You can feel it in this first grade classroom
for a second

Write on,

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

2012 Slice-of-Life Story Challenge | 20

It’s just like brushing teeth each night --- at bedtime, we lay out our clothes for the next day.  Top.  Check.  Pants.  Check.  Belt.  Check.  The right shoes.  Check.

I’ll admit, this routine began with me a few years ago.  Each morning I’d struggle, and struggle, and struggle with what to wear.  Sheer vanity, I know.  Too short.  Too tight.  Too heavy.  Too light.  Wrong hemline.  So, instead of waking up early to accommodate this madness, I resorted to an evening fashion show instead.  I admit all this to you through clenched teeth.  Embarrassingly enough, sometimes it would take forty minutes to try on a combination of shirts, skirts, and pants, visit the full-length mirror with each revision, and change out a pair or two of shoes until a winning ensemble was created.  Yet I’d do it.  Over and over again.  All to save a little time each morning and to make my life a little less stressful.  It also prevented any “Oh, that needs to be ironed” set-backs. 

My husband, well, he wasn’t initially as hip to the whole organizational system I’d set up.  But I’ve noticed as days turn to months, and months turn to years in our marriage, he sees the value in what my little obsessive-compulsive manifestation can offer him.  (See also: a little extra time; less headache).  Now before bed, he irons, lays out his clothes, searches high and low for a belt (which is always the elusive wardrobing element it seems), and then in the morning is able to focus more on preparing Reid for his day with the sitter and less on chasing down accoutrements.

The system works for Reid too.  Each night, there is complete outfit which magically appears to meet his needs the next day.  For a long time, there’s been a thought tumbling around in my mind.  It’s a thought I know will one day come to fruition.  It has to, developmentally speaking, but I think it’s going to be a hard one for me…I like knowing exactly what will go on and when.  I know, I know --- I’m going to have to give that one up. 

What happens when Reid doesn’t want to put on what I’ve chosen?

This week: fruition.  Like apples ripening to picking perfection.  Sunday night, as I worked on Monday’s stack, Reid set to his own organizational system --- taking shirts out of his closet and hanging them from nearby dresser knobs.  Four, in total.

“What are you doing?” I inquired.

“I’m getting my clothes ready for this week,”  Reid proudly declared.   

“OK, Kiddo.  We’ll keep them there.  Now it’s time for night-nights…” I gently prompted.

And, wouldn’t you know, the next morning he remembered.  Gone was the prepicked outfit.  Present was his first-ever toddler outfit under my husband’s watchful (and non-confrontational) eye.  It wasn’t a doozy…but maybe just a preview of coming attractions.   An email served as a status update, “This morning, Reid refused to wear the plaid shirt you set out for him.  He had to wear the surfing polo shirt he picked out instead.”

And, so it begins --- my little darling will discover ways to make his own life work, which from this day forward will include any necessary fashion decisions. 

Write on,

Monday, March 19, 2012

2012 Slice-of-Life Story Challenge | 19

Good morning, week.  I've been waiting on you.

As I sit in my remarkably still classroom right now,
my singer-songwriter tunes remind me that
this is the place I've designed.
Zebra curtains flank the windows and paper lanterns hang
in an asymmetrical arrangement above my meeting table.
This is a spot I like to come to each day,
to be inspired, to be an inspiration.
We gather in this place to
To consider ideas bigger than ourselves,
and to portion them into approachable bites.
Right now, before the sun is even up I see
today's light in my mind and all
the wonderful things that will happen here.

Good morning, week.  I've been waiting on you.

Write on,

Sunday, March 18, 2012

2012 Slice-of-Life Story Challenge | 18

We feel the the apartment is cramping our style.  And, since Indiana has decided to launch without hesitation into summer, our lack of yard space is really a downer.  Each day this week, we've watched the mercury rise and we've explored our options...

ME: Hey, what about going to this park?  We've never been. 

MY HUSBAND: Oh, I don't know about that.  What about just taking a trike ride around our old neighborhood.  (Which ironically we could; after we sold our house, we literally moved into the apartment complex across the street.  How's that for confusing?)

ME: We can do that any old day.  What about doing something special since it's the weekend?  Like maybe the new park at the art museum?  We could take the stroller and enjoy a nice walk...

So, yesterday my suggestion won out.  We did try the new art museum.  And, it was great, thank you.

We hopped into the Jeep afterward, fully satiated. by nature's early bounty. 
Dirty jeans,
muddy sneakers,
tired smiles.

I gazed out the window as we began our short trek home, reflecting on the many random fishermen we'd seen at the river and small lakes which bordered the art museum's grounds.  My eyes, somewhat disconnected from these thoughts, began registering new information.

Before full analysis, I began to speak.  "Oh, look.  More fishermen have set up shop under the bridge there," I remarked as I surveyed an assortment of jumbled blankets, a folding lawnchair, and an ugly blue tarp tethered to the bridge's underbelly.  I'm pretty sure at that point my brain looked more like the scrolling pictures on a slot machine face...desperately trying to make a match.  My background information told me this was not a Saturday spot for recreational anglers.

"Those aren't fishermen, are they?" I inquired without genuinely wanting an answer.  It would hurt too much.

"Do you know how many homeless people live under bridges?  It's really pretty common," my husband offered...a wealth of factual information. 

Our car sped along and the flowering trees displayed this spring's glory.  My mind also sped along, considering what life under a bridge must really be like.  It's not anything I want to spend any more than a couple seconds creating, for sure.   But, yet, I was drawn in.  Talk about a living situation cramping one's style...

Quietly I rode.  I considered my own narrow parameters --- a yard, a bigger space, storage, a kitchen with an island.  I shrank, embarrassed.

I don't live under a bridge...

Write on,

2012 Slice-of-Life Story Challenge | 17

Day late and a dollar short; HATED the technological difficulties which kept me from posting this yesterday.  But, I am loving sitting outside at Starbucks with my vanilla bean frappuccino this afternoon to write two slices... :)  Now, on with the show!


You know that moment when time is moving so s-l-o-w-l-y, but you still don't have a spare second to react?  Yep; that's what it was like at Ritter's last night.

The three kids were running around a tree while two sets of parents enjoyed frozen custard.  This was a late-breaking development (and an improvement) because they were formerally encircling us at our table flirting with the parking lot boundary.  Ellie, 7, and Joseph, 4 were showing their little cousin the ropes in a pint-sized game of chase.  In fact, my biggest thought at the time was, "Aw, I should grab my phone and take a picture.  This is slice-worthy."

But the very next second I was frozen, like cement curing on a summer's day, while watching Reid suddenly trip over his sneaker at a high rate of speed. 

He stumbled briefly and worked hard to regain his balance.
      (I cheered.  Crisis averted.)
He over-compensated and began flying out of their neat little orbit.
      (I gasped. I'm no physicist, but he was parallel to the ground.)
He flew.  And flew.  And flew.  Straight toward the next table's concrete bench.
      (I shuttered.  What if his head, or possibly worse yet, his mouth hit its edge? 
      This isn't exactly what his first dental appointment in two weeks was
      scheduled for...)
Finally, a resonating thump followed by a collective sigh: he landed just short of the bench.  At this point we had all patrons' eyes and hearts.
      (I ran now, even though the whole time I had wanted to.)



Scooping him up with my mama bird grip, I nuzzled him close --- forgetting about the road rash on his forehead, the classic scrape on his nose tip, and the full-on cut undernearth his nostrils.  We rocked and rocked; well, as much as our concrete fixture allowed. 

The wailing subsided.  His rational side returned.

"Mommy, I got hoot (hurt).  But it wasn't too bad.  It feels bedoow (better) now."

I am the one still reeling.  If only, if only, I could've moved faster...

Write on,

Friday, March 16, 2012

2012 Slice-of-Life Story Challenge | 16

I can remember each Thursday, like it was yesterday...being all giddy for that evening's TV.  And, by TV I mean one show in particular, the show.  It offered romance, interesting relational struggles, a handful of far-fetched medical situations...but most of all, it offered me another group of friends far more exciting than their real-life counterparts of my twenties.

At ten o'clock, the tinny-modern-medical-machine-sounding theme song began.  I loved the vivid image contrasts it presented --- red satin pumps following scrub-covered sneakers, an eyelash curler amidst the surgical tools, an IV drip come freshly-poured martini.  I sang the lyrics...they had danced through my mind the entire day I was part of it all too.  I just couldn't wait: would Derek and Meredith actually figure out their relationship this week?  The short signature piece by Psapp concluded and the episode's title (always named after an actual song, which I totally respect) centered itself on the screen.  Then, we'd launch into the world of Seattle Grace Hospital.

"Grey's Anatomy."  There was a time in my mid-twenties when I just couldn't get enough.  I downloaded the songs, I watched episodes more than once, I purchased entire seasons on DVD, I solved tricky relational difficulties in conversation with my friends who were also fellow watchers. 

Tonight, I saw this type of show devotion manifested in the life of a two-year old.

"They're two, they're four, they're six, they're eight...shunting trucks and hauling freight.  Red, and green, and brown, and blue, they're the really useful crew..."

I'm pretty sure after "They're" and before "two," my tot was up wildly dancing around.  In the living room, past the kitchen, through the bathroom and bedroom, and back out to the TV --- he danced the entire circuit.  He sang with emphasis, anticipation, and glee. 

6:30 each evening is a special time...and prior to it, he anticipates watching "Thomas and Friends" on Sprout.  It offers him behavioral lessons, tips on work ethic, quirky expressions (Well, bust my buffers!), and a preponderance of nitty-gritty details about trains.  It provides him a chance to see how friendships work. Thomas, Victor, Rosie, Percy, Toby, et al...these are 'real people' in my son's life.  He knows each engine's character traits and uses them to explain each episode's plot.  He considers the island of Sodor to be a magical destination where anything is possible.  He blends his reality with theirs by inserting characters into our everyday happenings (e.g. searching for Thomas whenever we drive over railroad tracks, saying 'hello' to Harold whenever we notice a helicopter flying above).  And, he's a devoted follower --- we have books, train sets, additional engines, t-shirts, and a fuzzy blanket. 

So, while "Grey's Anatomy" and "Thomas and Friends" are worlds apart in content, what each of us expects from an episode of our favorite show is remarkably similar.  There's a buzz of excitement, complete joy at the prospect of learning new information, rapt attention, and reflective analysis.

I promise you this though --- in all my years of the "Grey's..." fetish, never once did I dance around my house when the weekly episodes began. 

Write on,

Thursday, March 15, 2012

2012 Slice-of-Life Story Challenge | 15

I let myself sleep in.  I did.  And it was glorious. 

I got ready, like always, just later.  I enjoyed breakfast sitting down, which I found far superior to desperately snarfing down a granola bar between morning commitments at school.  I cuddled with Reid while he watched The Wiggles, which was nice because 98% of the time I leave without seeing him first-thing.  We walked out to the car together as my husband prepared for their daily jaunt to the sitter's house.

In the far recesses of my mind (while enjoying these mundane, yet fabulous indulgences), I heard a little voice of self-doubt.  Calendar doubt. 

"It's Wednesday.  What if you really did have a meeting?  You'll never make it in time now."

After kissing the little one and the big one, I hopped in the car content to have 20 minutes to myself.  A concert maybe...?  Winding down the trip, the calendar doubt seeped deeper and deeper and the internal dialogue became more oppositional.  I pulled into the parking lot only to notice it full.  FULL.  At 7:50, the parking lot is never full.  Cars were there that I don't see speed in until five minutes before contract time.

The doubt became panic.  No small whisper inside; only yelling now.  IF THERE'S A MEETING, YOU'RE FIVE MINUTES LATE ALREADY!!!

I couldn't park and whisk all my belongings out of the back seat with enough speed.  I fumbled into a dead-quiet hallway.  My eyes darted from one classroom to the next.  Darkened spaces, unoccupied pods.  I mentally reconciled this data with cars I'd seen in the parking lot.  At this point, I knew there was only one staff meeting indicator left.

I picked up my speed, focusing on the last door ahead of me.  Mine.
Is it open?  Is it open?

You see, my room connects the primary hallway to the media center, where all our staff functions are many times my room serves as a thoroughfare into these events.  An open door would mean mistake pure and simple.  I'd have to suffer the inevitable embarrassment of walking in alone and late. 


The seconds turned to minutes.  I glanced through the connecting door only to see intent faces pointed toward our guest speaker.

Geesh.  What do I do?  Should I walk in late from the front, my classroom door?  People already noticed me drop my bags by the desk and contemplate next moves...  Should I walk around the library and be even later so I could enter from the back?  Should I skip it completely?

The clock got the better of me.  Tip-toeing in from the front, I tried to gracefully slide a chair behind my colleagues.  It was a pipe dream to go unnoticed.  More sympathetic eyes darted my way than judging ones.

I'm late and my calendar's blank.  It was an honest mistake.  Sorry Mr. ING; I'll have to catch up on retirement info later in my career.

I let myself sleep in.  I did.  And it was glorious.

Write on,

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

2012 Slice-of-Life Story Challenge | 14

The room was dark, my soul was bare...
snuggling beside a jammied toddler
at 'night-nights' yesterday.
After prayers,
Reid began to chat.

"Mommy, I ran out of kisses."

I flinched.

I practically make a part-time job out of kissing this cherub.
For him. 
(I want him to feel as loved as he is.)
For me.  
(I absolutely can't stop.)

"Well, then I better give you some more.  I want you to have enough."

Ear kiss.
Forehead kiss.
Neck kiss.
Hand kiss.

"Now I have enough, Mommy.  Wove you.  Night niiiiiiiiiiiiight."
His little velvety hand grabbed mine as our eyes met.

"Love you too, little one.  Sleep tight."

"I better give you some kisses too, Mommy.  So you have enough."
His puffy lips (my family trait) lightly danced across my face.

Softly padding out of his room,
my heart flew
and my soul expanded.

We both have enough.
Our kiss quotient is in surplus.

Write on,

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

2012 Slice-of-Life Story Challenge | 13

I guess I didn't believe the forecast.  Mid-70s on March 13?  In Indiana?

Last night while laying out my clothes (like I always do), I checked the forecast (like I always do).  Sunny, 74.  My mind instantly equated the 74-degree high to like, 4:00 or 5:00 p.m., and I made the snap decision to forgo fashion and stay warm in my temperature-challenged school building.

(You see, and like you probably well know, schools have funny rules about turning boilers off and needless to say, my elementary is frigid.  Blue lips and nails, jackets on teachers far and wide, classrooms in the low 60s.  No connection to the outer world.)

I stepped into the closet and confidently pulled out my warm, cozy red sweater dress.  It's been my favorite all winter since plucking it out of the Tommy Hilfiger department at Lord & Taylor while at NCTE last fall.  I love it with my soft black leggings, dark riding boots, and argyle knee socks.  Oh, yes, and since it's short-sleeved, the perfect complement is my absolute favorite piece of clothing ever --- a black turtleneck.  I wear this outfit often.  (My co-workers may track it on a calendar.)  It's my go-to because it's fashionable and comfortable; warm and still flattering.  I figured today it would be just the ticket. 

I was the red sweater at school today
who looked more like a holiday greeting
than an inspired Gap window dressing

I was the red sweater at school today
who wore warmed-over winter
not fresh pinks, greens, and yellows

I was the red sweater at school today
who dressed for the calendar
not the forecast

I was the red sweater at school today
who covered up in black leggings and boots
no ballet flats and capri pants

I was the red sweater at school today
who melted under long sleeves
no cool breezes met my arms

I was the red sweater at school today
who dreamed of what I could've worn instead
no wintery woolens

So, take heart.  I've learned from my fashion faux pas.  Tomorrow, it's my dressy black capri pants, a comfy black cami under a raspberry belted cardigan, and some fun pointy-toe kitten heels. 

Me.  Revitalized.  Me.  Springy.  Me sans red sweater.

Write on,