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Jumping ship

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For me, it’s the sound of an overly filled trashcan rolling down a darkened hallway strewn with torn paper and boxes in stacks that spells the end. For them, it’s the sweltering air at mid morning recess, less homework, and no more tests that issues fair warning that summer break is nigh. After dismissal this afternoon, the building quiet of the ever present, boundless energy of children, but abuzz with teachers’ activity within the singular rooms, it hit me – the lump welling until it was unmistakably bursting within the walls of my throat. I am leaving. This afternoon, the eve before I send fifth graders into their first of many transitions and one step into their vast educational endeavors, I am mystified that the next time I’m here, it will be brimming with exuberant fanfare so different than this quiet moment I have alone with the building – the promotion exercises to be held in the morning, followed by a reception, and classroom awards. Each year is bittersweet – sending students on to a new year; this year will be particularly challenging as I will no longer be an elementary school teacher nor an elementary school parent. The journey to the end each year, while joyful, make the milestones, initiated with a group of awkward strangers who magically are woven into a diverse classroom family painful to achieve. In a little more than 12 hours, the group I’ve grown so accustomed to will no longer be mine, and my experiment of teaching my own child will finish, and the anticipated last day will be here. I never expected to close so many chapters at once – leaving elementary school, leaving special education, my child growing so quickly. When I started teaching, two weeks after my wedding, PL 105-17 was on the horizon – but not yet passed, IEPs were handwritten on triplicate forms, and email was new. Now, seventeen years later, I have a high schooler and my youngest is finishing in elementary school; I finally feel like I’m grown up enough to teach high school English. In the years in between, I’ve done my best to advocate for hundreds of kids, met countless parents, given haircuts, ridden school buses, taught cursive and multiplying decimals, swabbed bloody noses, made state models out of flour paste, searched lost and found too many times, had bubble gum contests and arm wrestling competitions, played basketball, kickball, and three legged races, produced yearbooks, and snapped thousands of pictures of the wonder of what eleven and under can be. Tomorrow I promote 24, make remarks about their endeared characteristics, and on Friday watch them circle the corridor for their last time, my last time, with helium balloons in their hands ready to take flight and it’s the hardest goodbye I’ve had yet. It’ll be my last elementary class as a teacher and parent – and the last time I teach letter formations staying within the lines of wide ruled notebook paper, modeling reading with a finger following words on a page from left to right and top to bottom, and how to walk in line in the hallway. I can’t help but feel a bit like I’m deserting even though it’s into my next adventure, years in the making. Best of luck to my class this year and thank you for making me realize it was time and I could jump ship.

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Am I ready?

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I like to think of myself as someone who is always ready for change – adventurous and ready to confront new challenges.  At the onset, it seems like there’s nothing that I can’t do, but there’s always this point in muddling through – amidst the puddles of the mess lying at my feet I am lost and unsure of how to wade out.  I know this about myself and it has taken a long time to learn it.  It shouldn’t be something that I allow to creep in regarding any decisions since I already know this of myself.  It’s the moment that I think I could cry and I’d get faster results than standing palms up, clueless in knee deep water as lightening cracks above my head.  I’m there tonight – not really with a committed decision in my pocket or being offered an option, but I put my toe out into a new venture and I have cold feet.  For seventeen years, doing the same old thing, there’s comfort in that; knowing your field backward and forward and rarely questioning professional decisions puts my mind at ease among other dilemmas thrown my way.  It’s that tight feeling in my throat that is already creeping up despite the fact that there’s nothing even in my hand when I consider walking away.  During the past seventeen years, I have learned as much about myself, about families, about parenting than I have even taught.  Am I ready to say goodbye to chronically untied shoelaces, braiding the tangled hair of girls lined up at recess awaiting their turn at my salon, blowing noses, wiping tears, spelling word lists, and cafeteria lunch counts for prom dresses, switching classes, broken hearts, driver’s licenses, and college aspirations?

Vintage linen basket liner

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I love vintage linens. There’s something about any party fare that makes these old pieces such a treasured item. I think of the evening’s plates spent in someone’s hand, filled with delicate patisseries; linens that rested under lit chandeliers during formal dinners; and the conversations exchanged in their silent presence. It’s one of those ‘if only they could talk’ kinda moments. I usually steer clear of altering/sewing/cutting old things, but preserve them in their original state.

Neatly wrapped in tissue paper with acid free written description labels, my collection of vintage linens sits lonely in the linen closet and largely unused save a few staple pieces I keep out all of the time. Snow days are a delight but I get stir crazy. I pulled out my stack of linens to rifle through and thought- why don’t I make a basket liner for my laundry basket in my bathroom? It’s a well made basket so I anticipate that it’ll be around a good long while. I renovated my master bathroom this past summer with vintage flair so the authentic linens were the perfect touch. I chose some pieces that seemed proportionate to the basket. One was monogrammed with an ‘M’ and while that isn’t my monogram, I thought it added to the charm.

I closed one eye as I started the first cut. All in all I used three pieces and truly all that was leftover were unusable fragments. I didn’t like the thought of wasting a shred of the linens. Even worse I dreaded confessing what I had done to my mother who passed the linens to me from my grandmother. It came out perfectly and my mom’s stance was better to use it than not.

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Snowmageddon stair renovation

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As soon as the afternoon of impending snow doom approached, I raced to Home Depot – even before the grocery store. The thought of being cooped up inside for days with over a foot of snow forced me to plan a big project to keep up productivity. Our basement flooded about two months ago and we put engineered hardwood in the basement but I didn’t like the thought of spending an additional $2,000 just to have the stairs done. Convinced that I could make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, I figured I could strip, sand, and refinish the stairs well enough so that we could put a runner and leave the outside four inches on either side exposed. I’d put the redo off until the floors were finished and the furniture had been delivered- not to mention some uninterrupted time to work.

Tearing off the carpet was pretty quick. Carpet is usually laid in two stair increments, but our full stairs were laid in two very long, heavy, sharp pieces. I removed the carpet, padding, tack strips, and all nails and staples in about an hour.

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After removing everything I was disappointed to see that is wasn’t just the offspray of trim paint underneath, and in my move in renovation haste I’d forgotten that the previous owners had painted the stairs with thick gray paint. I used Citristrip paint stripper that is better for indoor use, has less fumes, and works in about 30 minutes. It’s about $20 for the large size and I used half of the container for the full flight of stairs. When stripping the stairs I worked on every other stair to allow a clean stair to walk on. Paint stripper makes the surface pretty gummy and messy so wear shoes that the sole can get dirty.

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The stripper took of all of the white and some gray, leaving me no choice but to sand with a palm sander using 50 and 60 grit sandpaper. I did feel foolish when my dad said be careful not to tear off too much of the stair with such a coarse grit, but believe it or not the paint was on there so thick I went through multiple packs of sandpaper before it was ground off and ready for stain.

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At this point, mid – project, I start feeling sorry for myself, overwhelmed, and thinking the project will never finish and what mind was I in to undertake such a preposterous task that was far above my skill level. I photograph the various maladies I’ve incurred under said project and the disheveled state of tools and supplies.

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Then I turn the corner and things start looking up. The paint was sufficiently stripped, color tests commenced, and the tops were stained gunstock. It is redder than I would have liked but finished is more prized.

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I stained the tops before working on the risers because it is easier to cover stain that bleeds to the edge with paint than to try to control watery stain in reverse. I taped the edge and used a $2 quart of custom mix-oops paint-that I will never know the real color of-but liked it well enough anyway. I applied two coats in close succession because flat dries quick and nicely.

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A couple of hours later, I finished by cutting in around the trim work with white semi gloss – also taping the stairs with two long strips of frog tape from top to bottom of the stair case to prevent any bleeding into the stained top or cream painted riser. I pull off the tape before things are fully dried from bad experiences with the old style masking tape, but Frog Tape is worth its weight in gold and fully deserves to be sold and stored in it’s own little clam shell jewelry box like splendor. The stuff is magic. Here’s a close up of just how perfect I’m talking. Crisp lines that do not hint at the grossness that was hiding underneath the carpet only days before. Remember- builder’s grade pine stairs refinished in about five work sessions (the first two pretty long and rough).

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Current status is one coat of polyurethane on the stair tops and I think I’ll leave it at that. I have an aerial view of after since I’m stuck at the top with no way downstairs. I’m so pleased with it I think I will forgo the runner until I get my next inkling for change or there is snow in the forecast. Cost break down- $2000 for solid hardwood – OR – redoing my pine stairs myself – $6 sandpaper, $20 stripper, $2 cream paint, $6 Frog Tape, $5 stain, $10 polyurethane – job done with my own two blistered hands – always priceless.

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When I’m 64

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It’s one of those rare vegetable kinds of nights where I don’t have anything specific and pressing to do and the night until now has been fairly young. It’s not that I don’t have anything to do – I’ve got lists but it’s just one of those nights that rather than start a task from the list that’ll whittle my night to nil, I’m doing the smart thing and procrastinating. My mom is out of town and she usually calls my grandmother nightly to check on her; my grandmother is 93 – and actually closer to 94 now she says. With a wide open evening I love to the familiar sound of my grandmother’s voice when she answers the phone.

No matter how old I get I can’t imagine a day when I wouldn’t find listening to my grandmother tell stories my most treasured past time. I could listen to her for hours- with repeated stories or new ones it doesn’t even matter. She has this soothing kind of voice, and after almost 94 years, she’s got more wisdom than any book. Her rich life experiences, thoughts about how things should be, and the strength that not much rattles mystifies me every time I talk to her. She’s probably the toughest person I’ve ever met and ever will hope to meet. My grandfather passed away over 25 years ago and she’s been independent since. There’s nothing that shakes her and her philosophy on life is just about as right as anybody’s ever could be.

Last month when I agonized over a decision, she told me what an old friend of hers used to say,”I told God I’ll do the work if you’ll do the worrying.” If only she would always make my decisions so simple. Tonight she told me to ‘take time to stop and smell the roses’ and then she asked, “Have you ever seen that guy who speeds past everybody else on the road? I know you don’t drive that way.” Immediately guilty, I ashamed and I’m glad that my grandmother wasn’t in the passenger seat next to me last night in between pedal to the metal to leave the PTO meeting, pick up from basketball practice, before picking up Chinese for dinner that wouldn’t be served until forty five minutes after the official bedtime hour. She continued,”Did you ever realize he arrives at about the same time as everybody else?” She’s right, of course, again. In our exchange of what’s going on back in the busy routine since we last saw each other at the lull of Christmas she says,”God puts you where he wants you then relax – nobody outside of you probably gives a hoot.”

Her insight is priceless- what she knows after almost a century. She said that after my grandfather passed away she hoped to live to 75, then once she reached 75 she raised her wish to 80. She said had she not lived this long she’d have missed out on an entire generation – all of her great grand children. My thought is they would have missed out on on her. I hope she lives until she’s 200 and then has the chance to come back and do it all again because she’s so good at it. When I grow up to 93, if my children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren revere me half as much as we love her, then maybe I’ll finally have learned a thing or two.

On being Jewish and my favorite Christmas present

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So I’m not Jewish – but for about forty minutes this morning, while pouring over a fellow blogger’s three short stories – full of descriptive imagery that opened a world I’ve never known – I could have been. In writing, I tell my kids it isn’t enough just to give me a telling, I need to be in that moment and sense it for myself. To digest the tale, I’ve got to believe it and to believe it I have to see it, taste it, smell it as if I existed in the same moment with the writer. I appreciate the less travelled- the rare- the authentic and the narrative always adds to the quality of any experience to bring it to the palate of the reader. Here’s my ‘thank you’ note to one of my budding writers when ‘thanks’ doesn’t really do justice in detailing the whole experience.

During the holiday season, we are told it is more important to give than to receive. In this case, what I received enabled me to pay it forward to someone else. Thank you for my gift because it was my most treasured present this year.

It was December 20th, the last day of school before winter break, and ready to kick off the holiday in true vacation spirit, I decided to stop for pizza. Pizza joints are always bustling on Friday nights, and this Friday, right before the holidays, was no exception. The weather was atypical for impending winter, so we sat outside waiting for my husband to meet up with us to avoid the crowded restaurant. When he finally arrived, I waited in line to place our order, while encouraging my husband to save a table in the swamped restaurant. He found one in an alcove buried under already used pasta dishes and leftover pizza crusts on paper plates, but I saw him nudge the mess over with the back of his hand and sit down. At about the same time, a lady who’d just placed her order before me set up camp across from him. From behind, I heard them making small talk and laughing so I placed our order and took our number to the table. I figured this would be interesting, battle of the wills staking claim to the single empty table.

There, across from my husband, sat a complete stranger. We introduced ourselves and noted the congested restaurant; she explained that she was waiting on her carry out and was Italian herself and quite comfortable with sharing a table while she waited; we welcomed her to wait at our table as our food hadn’t yet arrived. She described some of her life experiences – she was an accountant, divorced, single parent of a grown daughter; she was an avid traveler and had been to 48 of 50 states. She’d been to countless countries and dined on various cuisines. She was an expert on Italian cooking and shared some of her family’s recipes and even lived in Italy for years during young adulthood. She was knowledgeable of the world, politics, and well read.

Our pizza was up and the waitress brought out a blistering hot silver tray with a bubbly cheese and dough pie, accompanied by a handful of napkins and utensils. We enjoyed the company of our guest so much that we insisted she join us for dinner since her carry out order, strangely enough, still hadn’t arrived. We ate dinner and talked throughout our meal – she served my son seconds on pizza and helped him arrange his chosen toppings on his slice with her fingers that were made oily from the task. Sometime later, her carry out order was brought to the table, but she was already in the midst of eating a vegetarian pizza so it would’ve been silly for her to take her order home to eat alone. My son complaining about eating vegetarian, she tipped open the top of her meatball pizza box and removed the meatballs from her untouched order to arrange them on his plate as he watched wide eyed with gratitude.

Afterward, we hugged her goodbye and wished her a happy holiday and the best for the coming new year. As we walked to our car in silence, my husband and I suddenly both commented to each other that she must be very lonely to be out on a Friday to pick up her dinner, anticipating to eat at home alone. A unique evening to have shared a meal with a complete stranger who many may have overlooked and not recognized how appreciative she would have been at being included in a family dinner. The holidays become too busy for all of us focusing on too much of the commercial, less important aspects of Christmas buying and cramming events into schedules long on tasks but short on moments. This beginning to my holiday was the true reason for the season and the pause as my reminder to focus on the spirit of the season.

Woah horsey, stop trying to control everything

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With the rain flicking the roof all day making me feel as though I’m a Seattle resident, it’s the perfect day to sit on my bed and evaluate a stack of papers for usage, mechanics, and punctuation. I always feel badly about shirking home duties while I’m at home as I hear the finished dryer cycle beep and the echoes of the dishwasher being emptied by little hands that are oh so new to household responsibilities, but en route to 365 days of a better me – with my ebb and flow change of New Year’s resolutions – I’ve decided to add another goal for myself: stop trying to control everything and expect it to be done in the manner in which I deem ‘perfect.’

The Christmas undecorating extravaganza this year experienced a marked change. With me still in recovery mode and unable to lift and bend, for the first time my husband and the kids stripped the trees and packaged the holiday decor to be squirreled away for the year. It was done as one of those ‘surprise mama’ moments. I heard whispers coming from downstairs up the stairwell that evening, but aside from the hushed voices I’d never have suspected a thing as I half slept through the process. The next morning, during ‘the Grinch stole Christmas’ prideful unveiling by my very own Max and Cindy Lou Who with Christmas stashed away, I winced at the thought of trudging up to the attic alone during the blistering heat of the summer for my own celebration of Christmas in July trying to sort what they’d packed in their own method of organizing. Especially after finding the little terra cotta pot that had been painstakingly repaired with clear nail polish and neatly placed on a paper towel, I wondered what other carefully repaired items were packed away. I’d had the inclination to toss the pot one day this week when I’d found it mistakingly lingering in the kitchen cabinet, forgotten by its fellow comrades from the properly label maker labeled ‘nature tree’ Christmas container, but as it rolled in my hand with its jagged imperfection, seeping dried nail polish lines, and poor repair job, I marveled that it wasn’t ‘my perfect’ but made me so happy that it was the most charming attempt. Whatever treasures to behold next holiday season from the expedited whisking away of the holiday baubles this year was done with their sweetest intentions – with that even this old Grinch’s cold heart swelled at the thought and I stuck the pot back in the wrong spot to enjoy it again the next time I open the cabinet.

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