Summer Reading

     It’s summer, and everywhere I look, something pops out to remind me that it is time for summer reading, and for a long time, summer–and July in particular–meant a new Harry Potter book was on the horizon.

      I bought my copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone from the University of Oregon bookstore shortly after it was first published. It was a little book in the corner, and I liked the pictures on the cover, and I have always loved fantasy, so the subject matter appealed to me. The world at large had yet to learn of The Boy Who Lived. There was no hype, no movie deals, and no anticipation. I loved the first book, and by the time the second one came out, the hype was rising. I bought the second and third books when they were first published and loved them too. (I became so absorbed in reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azakaban that I accidentally let my 9th grade honors English class read for an entire period instead of ten minutes at the beginning of class!) By the time the fourth book was published, the world-wide hype was truly underway, and bookstores had started throwing midnight book release parties. I spent several years with one warm July night dedicated to standing in line outside Powell’s, answering Harry Potter trivia questions, eating snacks, being spotted by my high school students who were lucky enough to be allowed to come into the city to stay up late and buy the newest Harry Potter, and generally having fun. We always bought two copies, so my husband and I could read the book simultaneously. By the time the last book in the series was released, midnight release parties were a regular summer tradition. WIth the added anticipation caused by the movies, marketing, and an additional year between the final books, the world was at a fever pitch. I knew that I had to read this book right away.

     This summer things were a bit more complicated. For starters, I was on crutches in July, and had been for six months. I am a very stubborn patient, so when I realized that the midnight release party meant standing in line for hours on one leg and two crutches, it was not going to stop me. But then, we were given a trip to Hawaii by my husband’s boss. No one sensible turns down an all-expenses paid trip to Hawaii, so July found me on Molokai, a beautiful, tiny island with Hawaii’s highest percentage of Native Hawaiians, the country’s most inaccessible National Park, and not a lot of any infrastructure beyond a tiny grocery store, some homes, some campsites, an elementary school, a runway strip for small planes, and a police car. Notably lacking was any sort of bookstore. Molokai felt like the last remaining place in the world that was not going to be selling the final Harry Potter book on its release date. (On the mainland, I’m pretty sure that if you bought a car that day, a Harry Potter book was thrown in for good measure.)

     My husband and I are nothing if not resourceful, though, and we were certainly not going to miss the chance to read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows ASAP. We discovered that there was a ferry connecting Molokai and Maui, the closest, and significantly busier and more touristy, island. While the ferry predominantly allowed locals to commute from their homes to a bigger island that had jobs, others could buy a ticket if they showed up at the dock before its 6:00am departure and there was space available. We figured that we could hop over to the other island, where there was bound to be a bookstore of some sort. 

     However, as the July 21 release date drew ever closer, we realized that we were in the path of a large tropical storm. It hit the night before, with pouring rain and strong winds. It was not destructive or a hurricane, and really only affected our vacation in that we closed some of the windows in the house and stayed out of the pool, but boat navigation was stopped in the Maui Channel because of the storm. We anticipated that the next day, however, would be fine, so we got up early and were at the dock at 6am. Space was available on the ferry! Our book quest was underway.

     We failed to take into account the fact that oceans are big, and storm waves don’t instantly subside just because it has stopped raining. The initial leg of the ferry crossing was fine. Locals chatted and ate their breakfasts, and we looked at the pre-dawn gray beginning to lighten up enough to see out the windows. But as we began to see, what we saw of the sea was…waves. Big waves. Shortly, waves were crashing high above the windows in the ferry, and we realized that for at least some of our crossing, we were more submarine than ferry. This was disconcerting. Within the first half an hour, the ferry increasingly rose and tossed on the mighty waves, and I realized that I am not a good sailor. I managed to find a Dramamine and force it past my clenched jaw, and then proceeded to hold absolutely still and not speak or open my mouth for any reason for the remaining time of the crossing. Anxious crew members silently handed me a bag, obviously praying that I would not mess up their clean ferry by barfing on it, and I miserably watched the waves washing over the windows and assumed that my death was nigh. Eventually, after the longest two hour trip in history, we safely reached the shores of Maui and debarked in Lahaina. I wobbled off the gangplank and across the street to a park, where I slumped against a banyan tree. I would have kissed the ground, but being on crutches made that a near impossibility. So I kissed the tree instead. It was 8 o’clock in the morning, so everything was still closed, and we stayed under the tree for an hour until I felt like I was, indeed, still alive, and shops started opening, and then set out to resume our quest. 

     The crutches made navigating the tourist thronged sidewalks and small shops slow-going, but I stubbornly crept along, on the lookout for a bookstore. We found jewelry stores and art galleries, a man with exotic birds standing on his head, many, many tour boat operators who offered to take us deep sea fishing (like I wanted to go back on the ocean!), and lots of shops where we could buy the usual tourist stuff like Hawaiian shirts and bathing suits and silly T-shirts. Lahaina also has many restaurants along the waterfront, and we eventually stopped for a lovely lunch, to treat my rapidly blistering hands and give my shattered ankle a break. After several slow passes along the half mile or so of harbor shops, we were absolutely certain that there were zero places selling the Harry Potter book. We needed a new plan. Regrouping on a bench near the man with exotic birds on his head, we chatted about birds and considered our options. We did not have a car and no taxis appeared in this largely pedestrian area. We did not have cell phones or a map, but sources (Bird Man) told us that there was a mall about seven miles away. That was obviously out of the question, but then I had a brilliant idea! Was there a big grocery store nearby? Yes! There was a Safeway about a mile and a half away. Bird Man looked dubious that I could make it that far on crutches, and my husband thought I was insane, for the practical reason that a book is not food, and Safeway did not sell books. I remained determined, refused to complain about my aching leg or blistering hands, and set off, very, very slowly for the Promised Land…Safeway. Eventually we got there, and after bickering the whole way about whether or not this jaunt was insane and/or pointless, we reached the automatic sliding doors of Safeway and the moment of truth. I crutched forward, the doors slid open, and the interior was revealed. We were face first with a giant display of pineapple…and Harry Potter books. Quest accomplished, we bought two copies and some pineapple for good measure and sat down to read.

     When school resumed that fall, and everyone, literally EVERYONE, was talking about how they got their Harry Potter books, I had the best summer reading story.

No Heat

If given a choice, which I am usually not, I’d rather teach in a cold room than a hot one. The kids complain, of course, but they also complain if it is too hot, or too boring, or the lights are on, or the lights are off, or if it is Tuesday, so I don’t worry about that very much. As I am the one dashing back and forth all over the classroom like a deranged pinball machine ball, I get overheated. My body has never adjusted well to temperatures, so in a hot classroom, I end up feeling sick by the end of the day in a hot room. If I have to put my coat and hat on in the classroom, I’ll feel a lot better. (Either way, my feet will hurt, but that is another slice altogether.)

So, usually, I prefer a cold room.

However…

As we returned from Spring Break last week, some sort of water leak was discovered in the walls, and the heat had to be shut off for my entire wing of the building. Not only was it cold in the classrooms, it was also cold by the heaters in the hallway. The students complained even more than usual, as it was clearly my personal fault that they were cold. They demanded that I adjust the thermostat. They did not believe me that my classroom does not have a thermostat, and that teachers have zero control over their environments. (Come to think of it, many of my non-teacher friends find that unbelievable too.) Strangely, or maybe not so strangely, it got colder and colder all week. By Friday, it was colder inside than outside. Yesterday, despite some false spring and sunshine over the weekend, it was even MORE cold than outside, and windy to boot. Brrrr.

Today, we had some false spring again, and I left home without my coat, knowing (ha!) that it was going to be warm and I would be fine. This worked out great in my car. It has heated seats. When I stepped out of my car at school, in my parking space that feels miles from the building door, it did not feel so nice. The sun was behind a cloud again, and it was quite nippy. I hustled as fast as I could under the physical and emotional load of my bag full of ungraded papers, and got inside. Where it was…even colder than before.

It turned out that the blustery storm from the night before had led to a power outage for several hours at the school yesterday evening. The warmer parts of the building were not wafting warm air into my corner of the building, because there were no warmer parts of the building. My classroom felt like I could freeze water in it. To make matters worse, the power outage did something inexplicable to the boiler, and there was not going to be any warm air until it could be fixed. I wished I had worn my coat, so I could put it back on in my classroom.

Did the students whine and complain? Nope. They did not even notice.

The End

We once again come to the end of March and our month of slicing. I have very mixed feelings. I’ve been participating in the March Slice of Life Story Challenge for several years (5 or 6, at least), and last year and this year are the two in which I did not write every day.

Last year, I was teaching 8th grade from home while simultaneously monitoring every aspect of my 5th grader’s online education, I developed pneumonia, rushed my child having seizures to the ER, and spent a lot of all-nighters at the emergency vet hospital for an end-of-life but beloved cat, so I think everyone agreed that the fact that I missed a few days here and there was understandable.

This year, though, is more nebulous. The point of the challenge, and the joy in it, is sticking to what you have pledged to do, and working through the tough spots when you have nothing to say. In the past, some of my best writing came from days on which I struggled to write. (Some of the worst writing too. 😀) I always enjoyed the challenge and the ability to write, which was something I had lost time for over the increasingly busy years.

This year, there were days where I just could not do it. I could not bring myself to stare at the blank screen and conjure words, and I am disappointed in myself as a result.

It is hard.

It is hard to write cheerful or thoughtful or insightful stories about education when it feels like the education system is falling apart around you.

It is hard to summon the memories of the funny things students say or do when the pressing issues of families in crisis, students who may be suicidal, fights breaking out on campus, and aggression, disrespect and defiance on levels you’ve never seen before plague your day-to-day work in the classroom, drain you of emotional energy, and warp every perception you have of your ability to build relationships, support kids, and teach well.

It is hard to write about family when you are so exhausted from pandemic parenting that you just want to nap for three weeks and not speak to anyone at all.

It is hard to channel creativity and craft it into something interesting and new, melding words and emotions into a poem or a story, when you are discouraged and confused.

It is hard.

But I made it through the month, and did write almost every day. I read and commented and read some more. It was nice to read that I was not alone in feeling as overwhelmed as I do. It was sad, but comforting, to realize that the struggles in classrooms are happening everywhere, not just in mine. I re-read my own writing from last year and realized how far we have come in a year. Hard as this month has been, I would not want to relive March of 2021 at all. I thank all of you for being here, and sharing your struggles and joys, and helping me spend a bit of time on most days doing something that is important to me, just as me.

I will keep writing.

I will once again try to keep slicing on Tuesdays. (And I may very well once again forget to do it by 9pm my time every week, but I will try, and I will read the slices from those of you who do consistently write every week.)

I will be back next March, for more slices.

Au revoir. May the next year bring us all health, prosperity, and a return to some type of normality.

Today Is…

A woken from sleep to fix a nightmare day

A spill tea on the cat day

A road closed on the way to school day

A give the sixth graders scissors day

A pick up scraps of paper day

A work through lunch day

A meeting in my prep day

A when do I have time for 99 emails day

A child playing manipulator day

A whining at dinner day

A bloody nose at bedtime day

A “mom, mom, mom!” every time I turn around day

A blurry vision, need new glasses day

A cats fighting in the hallway day

Today is…

Exhausting.

Ode to the Nap

After a long day
Of work
Of questions
Of running

from

desk

to

desk

I put my feet up
and closed my eyes.

Kiddo narrated
video games

Cats crawled 

up 
and
down

batting me

PET
ME
NOW!

Briefly,
though,
everyone went outside

and for a while

a short while

I put my feet up
and closed my eyes

and

            fell

                          asleep.

ZZZZZzzzzzzzz…

A Borrowed Idea

Today, I am borrowing Karyn in the Kitchen’s 4-4-4 writing idea, which she borrowed from someone who borrowed from someone, etc.

4-4-4: choose 4 things within 4 feet and write for 4 minutes. (Except I cheated and wrote for more than four minutes.)

Ariella. I have been home for ten minutes, so our butterball tuxedo cat is sitting on me, purring her head off. I had to turn to the side to keep my laptop out of her reach, so she is precariously balanced on my hip, sitting in cat loaf formation, unwilling to move while I am here. She will not move for hours if I hold still, and she will look betrayed and broken-hearted if I move.

Books. Duh. If you know anything at all about me, this is no surprise. I currently have two books that I am about to start (really, I swear), three that I am in the middle of, three that I have read half of but have not dipped my toes into for a couple of years, one short story collection that I finished re-reading this past weekend, my iPad with one nearly finished and two newly checked out library books on my Kindle app, and seven brand new books that are in a stack to be admired for a while before being sorted into my unread books bookcases. Those beautiful covers won’t appreciate themselves!

Knitting Projects. I work on knitting projects like I read books – a little here, a little there, start the new shiny thing, revisit that one that only needs two hours of work to finish. I keep my “currently knitting” projects next to the bed. At the moment, this seems to include five different holiday season knit-a-long projects that showcase five different sets of “Advent Calendar” yarn collections. (Honestly, the most exciting Christmas thing that has happened to me as an adult was the discovery that many people create Advent calendars with YARN in them! This year, I had three. Plus two LEGO calendars, which were, of course, for my son, and did not in any way involve me playing with little LEGO figures and creating scenes on a daily basis.) I also have two additional shawls in progress. All of these involve varying quantities of beautifully colored yarn, so I have much color and sparkle to admire on a regular basis. We will not say a word about the box of “return to finish soon” projects that is stashed under the bed. Soon is relative, since I plan to live forever to read all the books and knit all the things.

Blankets. The cats and I both appreciate cozy and soft blankets. (My husband does not seem to care how soft they are, as long as the cats and I don’t hog them all.) The cats have strong opinions about us leaving at least one window open during the night so they can monitor nocturnal critters, make sure there is still air outside, and fight over which one gets to sit on the windowsill, because sharing is for dogs. I love the warm weight of a big pile of soft blankets over me while cold air wafts in through the window. Since I usually also have a cat or two piled up on me as well, I am kept warm and toasty.

Lasts and Firsts

Today was the last day of my spring break, and the first day of my son’s spring break. Yeah, that didn’t work out well this year. I did, however, get three days all to myself, which has been a godsend. Time to just sit and think and do and be without having to keep listening, looking, monitoring, observing, answering, asking, feeding, nagging… It’s been a long, long time since I had a stretch of days where the majority of my time was mine alone.

I was supposed to have four days, but on one of them, I had a child who woke in the night and decided that the best way to deal with insomnia was to read for several hours. As it was the middle of the night, no one else suggested otherwise. You can image the general state of him in the morning. After a while, I gave up and sent him back to bed. (But I am evil, so I also got a lot of his work from his teacher and made him do homework in the afternoon.)

Today, I was not sure what we would do. Although he will get to do two special camp weeks at his school, they are four day weeks and shorter than normal days, so he will also spend a lot of time hanging out in Dad’s office. I feel guilty. I really do, despite how much I enjoyed having time to myself. He does not get a long stretch of time to just hang out and be. Of course, he’s 11 and has way more energy than I do, so hanging out lasts for about 20 minutes. So today, I resolved to spend a lot of time with him.

We

built trains

played with LEGO

watched cartoons

watched YouTube (God help me!)

worked in the garden

ate lunch

(but not with our tentatively planned road trip to the nearest In n Out Burger, 50 miles away)

played a made up game in the yard

played with the cats

did not buy new fish

did not buy stuffies

did not buy seeds and garden dirt

did not buy toys

and

finally

gave Mom a little bit of quiet time.

One Spring Day

It was spring today, briefly. Although it drizzled through the fog in the morning, by lunchtime, the clouds and fog were gone and the sun was shining in a dazzling blue sky. It reached 66 degrees, a temperature not seen for many, many months. I threw open all the windows, and the cats got so excited that they forgot to follow me everywhere like my own small parade. I relaxed and finished a novel. The cats hung out in the catio, soaking up the unfamiliar rays. The daffodils are blooming and the tulips and trees are budding. We ate dinner outside, Miles played on the trampoline, and I was demoted from throwing water balloons. It was perfect. And brief. The weather report from the local news just popped up on my phone, and it says “Hope you enjoyed the afternoon. Wednesday will be a lot different.” Spring in Oregon is not so much a season as an ephemeral moment. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Aliza soaking in the rays in her outdoor cat palace.
“So much sun. I must corkscrew a few more times around.”

Evensong

Finish dinner
Clear the table
Knit with TV
Play with LEGO.

Time to slow it down, boy.
Time to let it rest.
Time to settle down now.
Time to get some rest.

Pick up the LEGO
Go and take a bath
"Wait, my nose is bleeding!"
There goes my night, alas.

Time to slow it down, boy.
Time to let it rest.
Time to settle down now.
Time to get some rest.

Stop playing with the cat now
It's time to take that bath
"No, my nose, it bleeds again
And can I have a snack?"

Time to slow it down, boy.
Time to let it rest.
Time to settle down now.
Time to get some rest.

Blood and hunger both are quenched
Now time to take that bath
It's past bedtime already
No more excuses in your path!

Time to slow it down, boy.
Time to let it rest.
Time to settle down now.
Time to get some rest.

The bath is warm,
The bed is cozy,
Time to sleep is here at last…

But will it ever come to pass?