Tuesday, January 31, 2017

January Book Report: Undaunted Courage

I first read Stephen Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage, the story of Meriweather Lewis and the Corps of Discovery expedition to the west, in the summer of 1996 when it was first published and I worked in Nebraska.  In the aftermath of that first read, I made a trip to the place in Tennessee where Meriweather Lewis died.  When I returned to work in Nebraska that fall, I explored every corner of Nebraska, Iowa, and South Dakota that the Lewis and Clark expedition visited.   In the years after that first read, I’ve picked the book up to use bits and pieces of it in my teaching.  The book is a rich and thoughtful account of the expedition, from the moment Thomas Jefferson first envisioned it to the point of its completion. 

I picked up Undaunted Courage  this month for a complete re-read as I taught my 7th grade History students about Jeffersonian America.  I used bits and pieces from Ambrose’s rich narrative to guide our study of the Lewis and Clark expedition.  The students are working on documents and artifacts from the expedition and together we are thinking about the discoveries Lewis and Clark made.  For my classes, the book has been essential.  For me, in the context of modern day, the book has been a timely reminder about leadership and big ideas in a time of when both notions are more important than ever.  

From bear attacks to the triumph over adversity, the story of Lewis and Clark is distinctly American.  Ambrose’s telling of the adventure is filled with admiration and rich details, the sort of story that makes you want to grab your backpack and hike the mountains of the American west.  

Amaryllis Tuesday: Week Six, January 31

Things are coming along nicely and I’ve a feeling that February is going to be a big month for my amaryllis.

That’s happy!

Monday, January 30, 2017

By Day 9

On Inauguration morning, in the last few hours that we had a reasonable and thoughtful president in the White House, I ranted at an NPR reports about Trump as JT and I were driving to school.  JT wasn’t in the mood for this and snapped at me that Trump hadn’t even taken office and that I “had to give him a chance.”  This tip was offered as earbuds were inserted in his ears, so a dialogue did not develop.  Instead, I drove to school wondering if JT was correct, and I should withhold my anger and frustration about Trump.

Just a few hours later, as I read the Cheetoh Kleptocrat’s bombastic and ignorant inaugural address, I had my answer.  Trump had been given a chance, and he’d already let the nation down.  Within 24 hours, as Trump and his flunkies were lying about the size of the inaugural crowd and insisting on the notion of alternative facts, it was clear to me that the honeymoon was over.  The week’s barrage of executive orders, culminating in Trump’s effort to ban select Muslims from entering the United States, sealed the deal for me.

The Resistance is on and I am all-in.

Saturday evening, as airport protests spread throughout our nation, I followed on Twitter, made another donation to the ACLU, and contemplated the importance of the fact that the majority of us did not vote for the Cheetoh Kleptocrat.  The good news is that those of us who oppose Trump are in the majority.  The challenge will be to maintain a careful and vigilant resistance in the face of the sheer volume of White House actions.  We’ll need the patience to remain active and leadership to urge us forward and see us through.  This is our nation just as much as it is Donald Trump’s.  We must remember that every single day and make our voices heard.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Swimming in the Deep

I regularly run on an elliptical at my gym and supplement that workout with some modest weight-lifting but for years I’ve longed for a gym with a pool where I could swim laps.  This year, I found a pool and lately I’ve been grabbing my swimsuit to swim laps.  It’s a glorious thing and as I add up the laps, I’ve plenty of time to think.

For most of my childhood, swimming meant a pool in the backyard.  I didn’t swim laps there, but I did play endless games of Marco Polo.  When I get in any pool, I always think of the pools of my youth.  My parents first put a pool in our backyard when I was in the 4th grade.  As a child, my father had not learned to swim because swimming lessons always required him to remove his very thick glasses.  Not enjoying the combination of near blindness and fear of drowning, my dad took a pass on swimming lessons.  When we got a pool, he learned to swim but always swam with his glasses on.   More than once, my sister and I swam to the bottom of the pool to fetch those glasses.  

I’ve worn contact lenses since I was in my early 20s and I regularly swam wearing them.  Last year, I finally exchanged my contact lenses for glasses full time.  When I get in the pool, I leave my glasses on a bench with my towel.  I can see without my glasses, but it’s definitely a very fuzzy world view.  I can’t read the (giant) clock on the wall, nor can I trace my laps by the timer on the other side of the natatorium.  I can tell when someone else is in my lane, but if they aren’t close by, I can’t see them.   I am a confident swimmer, so this doesn’t phase me.

But as I swim back and forth, I think of my dad, whose vision is far worse.  Now I really understand his reluctance to get in a swimming pool all those years ago.  I appreciate how difficult it must have been to take on swimming as an adult.  And I swim another lap or two, grateful for the blessing of time to swim and think.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Amaryllis Tuesday: Week Five, January 24

We’re in the midst of January Nor’easter storm.  This one brought rain and wind, instead of Winter’s customary snow.  The amaryllis sits patiently by the window growing taller as it awaits the sunshine.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Front Porch in January

In my world, January is the month when Winter really takes hold.  The front porch decorations of the month echo Winter’s stark stillness.  The front door has a bare wreath.

The table has greenery and pinecones with a touch of deep red to bring cheer in the chilly, short days.

The snowman flag is in the air.  If it’s going to be cold, I figure, why not have some snow (and maybe a snow day off from school!)?

The front of the porch has a string of white lights on an automatic timer so that we needn’t come home in the dark in the evening.

So far, Winter hasn’t brought us snow and though it’s been seasonally cold, it hasn’t been frigid.  Today’s forecast promises wind and rain but no ice.  We’ve passed the middle of January and had only one snowstorm.  It happened on a Saturday, so it didn’t give us an extra day off.  At this rate, February may also require an invitation to snow!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Real Life Conversations with my Boss: Making America Great edition

The backstory:  Friday’s swearing in coincided directly with Middle School lunch and so we opted not to watch the festivities.  In history classes, we discussed the importance of the peaceful transition of power and the historical nature of the changeover.  But we otherwise skipped out on a live viewing of the Cheetoh Kleptocrat’s speech, figuring we could watch later that day were the speech to be along the lines of Jefferson’s gracious and reconciliatory 1801 inaugural address, a subject all of our 7th and 8th graders have studied at length.  The principal and I read the speech over lunch, prepared to adjust our afternoon.  There was none of Jefferson’s gracious reassurance in DJT’s apocalyptic description of America.  We were horrified.

DJT:  “America will put its own interests first. America first. America first.”

B: “Great, that’s an open invitation for ISIS to come over here and cap us in the ass.”

Needless to say, the rest of the school day proceeded unaltered.

Friday, January 20, 2017

An Inaugural Pledge

For all of my life, I have paid attention to presidential inaugurations.  A minimum, I’ve found time to hear the president’s speech.  At maximum, I’ve watched every moment.   In 2008, I kept my son home from school so we could watch Barack Obama’s inauguration together.  I wanted JT to forever remember the historic moment.

But 2017 is different.  It’s not just that my candidate didn’t win the Electoral College while winning the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes.  I watched the inauguration of George W. Bush, despite the fact that he lost the popular vote to Al Gore.  Today’s inauguration of the spectacularly unqualified Donald J. Trump is  a profound disappointment for me.  In the months since Donald Trump’s November election, I’ve dreaded the moment that our nation’s collective fate is in the hands this self-absorbed megalomaniac.  I will eventually find time to read the Cheetoh Kleptocrat’s speech.  I will be glad of a peaceful transition of power.  But after that, everything about this day is filled with anxiety.  There is no cause for celebration.

And so I pledge to stand tall for equality and justice; for the liberty that we the people claim for ourselves and must always cultivate.  Our nation has endured and even flourished in the face of outside threats to our values.  The test moving forward is to endure and flourish when the threat comes from inside.  I would be lying if I claimed that I wasn’t afraid.  

On the evening of the election, as the horrible realization dawned upon us, my liberal 16 year old son developed a case of hives to go with his growing anxiety about the meaning of Trump’s victory.  Repeatedly, I reassured him that we would be fine and that the task that lay ahead would be for us to make sure to look after those who might not be fine in a Trump Administration.  And then my big strong boy, the son of two mothers who has not once experienced discrimination against his family, asked if his moms and their partners would be safe.  I reassured him that gay folks have endured much worse than Donald J. Trump and that we would be around long after he was gone.  

For me, that moment is the compass the directs me as we move forward.  I will not live in fear.    

I am strong.  I am in the majority.  I will not bend in the face of threats to values that have endured far longer than the bluster of one hateful, ignorant man.   This is our country just as much as it is Mr. Trump’s.  He is the test history has sent us.  I pledge to resist him with every fiber of my being.  I will be strong.  I will be good.  I will stand with the vulnerable.  I will speak truth the power.  Every day, for as long as it takes.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Sunday at Costco: Why? edition

It snowed on Saturday and the six hours of smelling wrestlers in the gym exhausted T and me.  After the grappling, we sought naps, not more time in the company of people.  So, instead of going to Costco on Saturday, I went on Sunday.  Happily, there was no shortage of strange sightings to behold.

1. A man in camo shorts, dress shoes, and a sweatshirt pushing a cart full with a toddler and average food items.  Had he run out of suitable clothes for shopping?  Come from a church-related hunting outing? It’s so hard to know.

2.  A different man in cargo shorts, hiking boots, a winter hat and a heavy parka.  Again, I am forced to wonder exactly where he had been or where he was headed.

In both instances, I must also admit: my son wears shorts all year, pretty much no matter the weather.  Is he going to be one of those men someday?

3.  Two men haranguing their disinterested wives, who were filling their carts with your usual Costco items.

4.  Countless examples of leggings.  Internet, I believe I have made myself clear on this matter.

In the interest of full disclosure, my cart contained the following items: 5 cartons of ultra-pasteurized half & half (Mama’s coffee needs are met through February); a 3-pack package of organic chicken breasts; 1 bin of fresh blueberries; 2 loaves of bread; and a 5-pack of men’s deodorant.  I was not wearing leggings.

Oh, New Jersey.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Amaryllis Tuesday: Week Four, January 17

This week, as we march toward the inauguration of a man who is wholly unsuitable to be the executive of our nation, the amaryllis is a reminder of patience and the power of endurance.  I do not expect good things for my country in the era of Trump and while I resist with all my might, I will look for hope where I can find it.  This week, I find it here in a stem standing strong and looking toward the light.

Monday, January 16, 2017

On Good Trouble

To celebrate the life, leadership, and accomplishments of Reverend Martin Luther King in the same week that we will inaugurate a man singularly unqualified to lead our nation and who did not win the popular vote is one sort of irony.  That Mr. Trump has chosen this week to strike up a conflict with Representative John Lewis, a member of Congress and a Civil Rights leader who worked with Reverend King and has the scars to prove it, completes this circle of irony.

Representative Lewis, now 77 years old, remains active in defense of equality, liberty, and justice.  It is the struggle that has shaped his life.  When he speaks of his work in the civil rights movement, he contextualizes it by calling it “good trouble.”  In celebration of the accomplishments of Martin Luther King and his movement, in support of Representative John Lewis, and in resistance to Mr. Trump, let’s remember not to duck from “good trouble” when it comes our way.  Now is the time to do the right thing.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Not a Fan

The backstory: On Instagram, I follow a woman named Jen Hatmaker.  She lives in Austin, Texas and writes about her life as a wife, mother, and Christian.  On the face of it, we don’t have much in common, but I like her sensibility and her sense of humor.  From her, I’d adopted the idea of an occasional rant about the small annoyances in life.  She calls her rants “Not a Fan” and that rather sums it up, so my occasional rants will also arrive under that title.

1. Yoga Pants at School
Part of my job as Assistant Principal comes with the expectation that I will enforce the dress code, which forbids leggings, leotards, yoga pants, and all things of that ilk unless they are worn under a skirt, dress, or tunic top.  With the caveat that there are a near endless variations of these things that you may wear to cover your backside, I’m calling them all yoga pants.  In the world of adolescence, everything is negotiable and thus I often find myself in the unenviable position of saying to a young woman that her top is not long enough to be worn with her yoga pants.  I am not a fan of these conversations and I wish that the mothers of my school would stop this problem at the pass by not permitting their daughters to leave home in clinging yoga pants and short tops. 

2.  People Who Complain to Me About Girls Wearing Yoga Pants at School
The only thing worse than dealing with girls and their revealing yoga pants is people who complain to me about girls wearing yoga pants to school.  I enjoy these conversations even less than I enjoy speaking with the girls themselves about their yoga pants.  That the complainers are sometimes guilty of wearing yoga pants themselves makes it even better.  

3.  Yoga Pants
I do not care for the current style of wearing yoga pants all the time.  Under no circumstances do I wish to see your bootie in a pair of yoga pants.  I will tolerate it at the gym because, hey, you may be headed to yoga.  But otherwise, I feel like your yoga pants create a level of intimacy between us that I do not wish to experience.  Athleisure wear, it's time for your turn in the limelight to end.

4.  Pants at All, Actually
I personally do not enjoy wearing pants.  I prefer a skirt or a dress.  In theory, I can see that pants may be handy.  In practice, I find them binding and uncomfortable.  In the Summer, I never think about pants.  But when the weather turns cool, I imagine that pants would make life easier.  They’d be easier than putting on tights to keep my legs from turning blue, I think.  In theory, I could slip my pants on and run my errands, attend the athletic event du jour, and go countless other places where pants would be convenient.  In reality, I dislike the way pants feel, I don’t care for my appearance in them, and I feel silly when I wear them.  So pants and I are barely on speaking terms and soon enough I will be longing for warmer days when a skirt and flip flops will do the job.

Friday, January 13, 2017

On Mornings

I haven’t always been a morning person, but the older I get the more I find mornings to be a lovely part of my day.  In the quiet as the sun rises, I have time to read and think; to write and make plans for my day.  

On school days, I get up at 5:30 am and after my shower, I drink coffee, practice Spanish, catch up on work e-mails, read, and write while I eat breakfast and listen to NPR.  I use the time to make a mental list of the things that must be accomplished or attended to in the day.  That quiet hour sets me up for all that the day will bring.  

On days off, I’ll often get out of bed at 7 am and still be drinking coffee, reading, and writing at 9 or later, when the rest of my family surfaces.  The quiet is time for me to take stock of the passage of time and the pace of our days and weeks.

Morning is lovely no matter the season.  In the late Fall and Winter, I rise in the darkness and watch the sun peak over the horizon as I enjoy my coffee.  In the Spring and Summer, I wake with the sunlight.  If the morning is warm enough, I can steal a few minutes outside.  In the Summer, my early morning wake up permits me the luxury of time outside before the heat of the day has taken hold.  

I enjoy the quiet; the sounds of nature; and my sense that a new day feels fresh.  I like the fact that even the busiest of days can start with time for quiet; a pause before the chaos begins.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Amaryllis Tuesday: Week Three, January 10

Just like that, the month of January is in double-digit days (though barely in double digit temperatures!).  The amaryllis is doing its thing, soaking up the sunshine from its southern window., and inching ever upward toward a Winter bloom.

That’s happy!

Monday, January 09, 2017

Real Life Conversations with T: Valentine edition

The backstory: T and I were grocery shopping on Sunday afternoon when we came across the Valentine candy section.

T:  I suppose I should get my Valentine some chocolate.

Me (while visions of delicious Lindt truffles swirled in my head):  Yes, yes you should.

A few minutes later, this decidedly low-rent box of candy was in my cart.  When I saw it, T had a question.

T:  We good?

Internet, she’s taken.

Friday, January 06, 2017

In the Thick of It

We returned to classes on Tuesday; JT starts midterm exams today.  Over our Winter Break, I updated my new 2017 calendars, laying out the wrestling meets and assorted events that will take us to our mid-March Spring Break.  Though 2017 is new, we are nearly at the mid-point of the school year and experience reminds me that the months ahead will rush by in a flurry of activities and events.

JT is a Junior this year and I’m aware that his application for and departure to college is in our sights.  I’m not quite ready for the time to fly by so quickly.  But I remind myself that I’m not in control of the calendar.  I am in control of how I manage these rapidly passing days.  I make sure to make time to enjoy the moments as they unfold; I take time to laugh and enjoy my son’s company.  When he runs, or has a wrestling match or a baseball game, I am there.  My goal now is the same as always —— to raise a happy adult.  For years, that seemed like a distant goal.  These days, it seems a bit closer than I expected.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Real Life Conversations with My Boss: Toilet repair edition

The backstory: My boss and I have a lot of conversations. Surprisingly, none have made this blog.  This is either due to a stunning degree of professionalism on my part or the fact that all of our conversations are insanely profane. I’ll let you be the judge.  Upon our return to school on Monday, we had a conversation about toilet repair, a subject readers of this blog may recall from 2015.  

Me:  We have two weeks off but my toilet chooses Sunday night for the handle to break.

B:  Didn’t you just repair that?  You people are hard on a toilet.

Me:  That may be…..but in any case, I yet again confront a broken flush handle.  When I diagnosed the problem, both T and JT were cavalier, offering up something along the lines of, “your last repair was never any good.”

B:  An unwise response.

Me:  Agreed.  In any case, I am once again about to replace the toilet handle.  Let’s hope this repair doesn’t come in for criticism or the two of them will be sent outdoors to do their business.  

One You Tube toilet handle repair video refresher course later, a new handle has been installed.  We are flushing like champs.  

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Amaryllis Tuesday: Week Two, January 3

For the last few years, my amaryllis bulbs have been slow to grow.  But in just one week, this bulb is getting after it.

Students return to classes today and in the two weeks since I last saw them, many of them will be a bit taller.  Having an amaryllis bulb each Winter is a reminder for me to take a moment and admire the ways in which subtle changes shape our world.  That’s happy!

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Things I Do for My Son: January 1 edition

Last year, JT drank the running koolaid for keeps.  He ran on his own over the summer and when the cross country season arrived in August, he was ready.  Daily practice in the company of extraordinary coaches moved him to challenge himself.  Over the course of the 2016 cross country season, he ran 6 personal best times.  He went from running in the middle of the JV crowd to being the fastest Varsity runner on his team.  The sport fished him in hook, line, and sinker.  We now buy running shoes in sets of two; he owns running shorts and a GPS watch; they go with his running hat and running gloves. You get the picture.  It is also the reason that I found myself at the finish line of January 1 5k, cheering on my kid.  The good news is that the race didn’t begin until 11 am.  The bad news is that sign-in was at 9:30 am.

For January 1st, it wasn’t as cold as it could have been, with sun and temps in the mid-40s to go with the breeze.

JT and his day glow green shorts ran well, not a personal best, but a respectable time for a kid who is in the midst of his wrestling season.  He placed 4th overall and in a race with more than 700 participants, that’s plenty good.  There’s a half marathon on the horizon, scheduled for April 30.  But something tells me we won’t have to wait until then for an entry in my “Things I Do for My Son” series.

January 1: Old Man Tree

Since she moved into the neighborhood in late 2011, the neighbor in the house to my immediate west has complained to me about Old Man Tree, the splendid red oak tree that is the centerpiece of my back yard.  Her complaints have taken on an array of concerns, each growing more nutty.  She doesn’t like the leaves it drops in the fall; she’s convinced its responsible for the poison oak in our yards; she’s complained that it may lose branches and fall on her children while they are playing in their backyard; she’s worried that it will fall and land on her house while her children are sleeping.  I’ve repeatedly reassured her that the tree is no danger but all of that has been to no avail.  Crazy neighbor continues to request that I cut down the tree.  I’ve explained that’s not necessary and repeatedly said no.  In October 2016, with no warning to me, she reported my tree to the township inspector claiming that it was a dead tree and was therefore a danger.  

The inspector left a notice at my house requiring tree inspection.  I was furious with him and my unreasonable neighbor.  I was also afraid that the cranky town inspector would require removal of the tree, which I dearly love.  Within the week, an arborist arrived to inspect the tree.  He declared it sound.  The summer’s uneven water supply had stressed the tree and the result was some leafless branches and smaller leaves, as the tree conserved its energy.  But Old Man Tree is healthy and well, the arborist declared.  At over 90 years old, the double trunked gem is one of the oldest red oak trees in central New Jersey and likely to live many more years.

The arborist arranged for the tree to be trimmed; I had the major overhead branches cabled to provide additional strength.  The town inspector approved and I explained the plans to my crazy neighbor.  Overhead branches were thinned and the tree was made more secure.

Thankfully, Old Man Tree is here for 2017.  He is alive and well and stands guard over my house, an amazing display of Mother Nature’s strength and beauty.

Old Man Tree remains the anchor of my backyard and each day his noble and enduring strength make my heart sing.  

For 2017, I’ll celebrate Old Man Tree on the first of every month.  In his majesty and endurance I find hope in a year that badly needs it.

That’s happy!