Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Sabbatical Proposal

Dear Principal:

I am writing to request permission to take a sabbatical. Before you start to hold up your hands and shake your head, just give it a thought. Forget about budgets and money and think about how illustrious our school could become. Will become.
Think about what great work I could accomplish if I had the time to devote my brain power fully to writing each day for 365 days. Not just the few hours (more like minutes, really) between the last bell and the clock at home that ticks sluggishly by as I grade yet another paper.
Here is what I propose: let me have just one teensy little school year. Just one. Maybe one every five years. In that year, you can fill my teaching position with someone else while I stay home and write. Of course, I will still also draw a salary and will need the assurance that I'll get to slide right back into my original position after the year is up.
In exchange for this, I promise to spend the hours from 7:30 till 2:30 each week day diligently writing. I will finish my novel, keep up my blog, and send out query letters to prospective agents. By the end of the year, you will be able to tell the school board that you have a best selling authoress on staff. I will even donate an autographed copy of my novel to the library. I will come back to school rejuvenated, ready to devote a fully un-preoccupied brain to my lesson plans and grading and teaching. I will not be distracted by that pesky novel that's chirping away in my brain, battering against my skull in a desperate hope for its release. Well, okay. Actually, I probably will. There's always something new. But I should be able to stave it off, resting on the laurels of my publishing deal, content to wait five more years until the next sabbatical.
I really can't fathom how you could pass this opportunity up, really. Although the school board may balk initially at the idea of awarding a sabbatical to a teacher, it is truly a win-win situation for all involved. You will be lauded as that rarest of administrators: one who can look beyond dollar signs to the true value of the written word, one who truly values the arts. In truth, you will likely receive national recognition, at the least from the NEA, for your commitment to fostering the voice of this one English teacher, the girl who just needs a bit more time to foster her genius. The school board will surely be able to glean a bit of that reflected glory, as well. The district will have the distinct honor of calling a celebrated authoress one of its own.
Thank you for considering my proposal, Mr. Principal, and I look eagerly forward to hearing your response.

With all seriousness,


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Wisdom of the Ancients

You know, the people who pen the sentences that survive to become old adages really are infinitely wise. One of them said you never really appreciate what you have till it's gone. And I have found that statement in particular to be true.
After I recovered from the extreme guilt pants of the mother who forgot to kiss her boy goodbye before he left for school and immediately thereafter for a weekend-long youth group retreat, I helped myself recover by organizing an impromptu wine and cheese party.
And since I don't like to pay a babysitter (which, thanks to Lauren (I love my teenager)), I rarely do, I couldn't feel entirely comfortable making the thing sans kids. I do love children--my own and my students. Most of them. Others are okay if they are a) quiet b) cuddly or c) infants who don't puke or poo on me. Otherwise, tolerable at best.
I had a brief flashback to the running and screaming of our New Year's Party, but then I recovered and hit the send button.
And you know what? It was all fine. The number of kids was fewer and the volume significantly decreased. The cheese was pungent and plentiful, and the wine even more so. I learned a valuable lesson that night as well: an orange dipped in a chocolate fountain may be tasty, but a garlic-stuffed green olive is not.
It wasn't really until the tail end of the weekend that I realized how much I missed Jonah. See, he and Lauren are the oldest of 15 Greiner grandchildren. Not only that, but 10 of those 15 are boys, and the only two who don't idolize Jonah are the babies. They just don't yet recognize the god in their midst. Their eyes are still milky with innocence. But their day of enlightenment will soon come; there is no doubt in my mind.
To a young boy, Jonah is indeed godlike. He speaks with quiet power, armed with a wealth of knowledge about reptiles indigenous to Michigan (and the world), about every single dinosaur, about how to create weapons. His hands have crafted bows and knives, daggers and swords with precision and cunning. His focus is intense and whole: when he is creating, he cannot be interrupted. He is patient but capricious. He is changeable as one of the gods of old, and the boys adore him for it.
They came to our house, three of them, on Sunday, and when they realized Jonah wasn't there, their despair nearly overwhelmed them. It was too damp and muddy, really, for outside play. So they had to scrabble together a godless existence indoors.
I almost forgot to mention: we adults know full well that this myopic boy, while possessed of a genius that occasionally shakes us to our souls, is not divine. However, we do appreciate his gift for channeling the youthful--ah--exuberance of his cousins and brother. He does sometimes seem a bit omniscient, and we adults are fully culpable of taking advantage of his prescience. He knows what they're doing and he knows how to impel them.
Okay, it's true: he also knows that he can shift blame for his crimes on his younger counterparts and they will nod eagerly, not realizing at what cost their admission will come. He's not a wholly blameless sort of god. Not at all.
But the story: here it is. So they were bereft without him but they soon turned from a morose sort of daze to a wild sort of rumpus. There was running and a good deal of screaming, and within maybe eight minutes, I was not the only adult in the house who sorely missed Jonah's magical touch of soothing balm--the quiet he could instill.
Then it got very quiet in the house, almost like our joint desperate wish for him had shaped him into being. We shared smiles and lowered our voices to a normal level as we sipped coffee and nibbled on coffeecake.
I think the realization hit all of us at the same time: four boys under the age of seven should NEVER be quiet. That meant certain trouble.
We scattered to investigate.

I was the one who found them. They were sitting in the family room, posed neatly on the couch with Jared and Sam in the middle grinning like fiends. The older two wore their innocence more comfortably. They had more practice.
As I left them sitting there silent together and walked toward Jonah's bedroom, I wonder what I would have seen had the eye in the back of my head chosen that moment to open. I wonder if I would have seen Jacob staring into Jared's eyes, slowly drawing his finger across his throat. I wonder if I would have seen Sam's curly head tucked close to Elijah's chest, Elijah's hand pressed over his brother's mouth.
But I delight in my naivete and enjoy taking the best measure of people, so I didn't open that eye. Indeed, I walked toward Jonah's room with no other plan than to check on Squirt, his lizard.
You can imagine my dismay when I stepped into his room and saw what had kept four boys so quiet for so long.

Every god has his holy of holies, and for Jonah, this place is his white cupboard. It's small, three shelved with doors. At one point, he had a padlock on it, but that was gone. Here he keeps his treasures: his lego catalogs, the notes he writes himself about reptiles and plans for general mayhem, his drawings for daggers, his candy, rocks he's collected in the driveway, acorn caps, a set of tired markers...you know: boy stuff. And that's when I saw it.
Something that drove the blood screaming out from my heart. Something that curdled the coffee creamer churning in my stomach. Something that made my hair curl to its roots. Something I never thought to see in my son's holy of holies.
It was a squirrel. It wasn't alive.

Okay, actually, it was just the skin. But it was not cool. Not at all. I can handle junk and garbage and childish treasures in my son's hiding place. But a dead animal? One that may have chattered at me the previous fall as I sat on the patio reading? One that had once had a fine bushy tail it liked to twitch at twitterpated maiden squirrels? This was not good.
I called the boys in, each of whom (wide-eyed) denied knowing anything about the mess. We worked together to clean it all up, but all the while, my brain was working furiously. Who was this boy I tried to tuck--sharp boned and knobby--into my arms? When had he become the sort of person who (remember: I like to be naive and positive) found a perfectly good squirrel skin lying on the ground and decided to keep it? What was I going to find next time some young boys looking for fun decided to dig through his secret cupboard?

Clint, being much more practical and clear-eyed just nodded quietly when I told him about the squirrel skin and signed Jonah up for the next available hunter's safety class. And I--I just hugged Jonah more tightly and kissed him more fiercely when he came home. I helped him rearrange his cupboard while he muttered imprecations against certain related young people. And I didn't ask him one question about the squirrel.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Bell Is Ringing

If you had asked me five years ago about family traditions, I wouldn't have much to say. The kind I remember from Growing Up, that is. We did the same sorts of things everyone else did, aside from the song and dance routines we devised to convince my dad to do just about anything, ranging from letting the girls go to the mall to driving someone to the video rental store. Those were good. But other than that, it was just normal stuff.

But lately, my mom has become a different sort of person (in a good way--an interesting way). She has become interested in new things, and one of them is establishing family traditions (along with other things, like starting new collections and shopping like a fiend). One of these is The Bell. At family gatherings when we sit down to eat, anyone with an announcement has to ring the Announcement Bell to signal the general quiet (which, now that there are something like 6,000 grandchildren under the age of 15, really doesn't happen unless the bell rings). So, mom, consider the bell rung. I have announcement to make.

We are pleased to welcome a new member of the family. Her name is Willa the Veiled Chameleon. So far, she doesn't seem to have many superpowers aside from Ginormous Appetite (Jonah thinks she's eaten 20 crickets today alone--talk about a food budget, eh?) and Ability to Climb Seemingly Smooth Surfaces like Jonah's Face.

Here she is hanging out on Jonah's finger. Isn't her curled tail so cute? Yeah, I know. Adorable.

The lady we bought her from at the reptile expo said she's about one month old, and she'll be full grown in seven months, when she'll be about seven inches long. (She also sold us 500 crickets for $9, which considering Willa's previously mentioned eating superpower, was a great deal. We'll be looking for more of those good deals, as Willa is not going to be eating a whole box of crickets from the local pet store each day--at $3 per box.)

So welcome, Willa. I hope you live a long and magnificent life. I vow to keep all rubber lizards far from your delicate (voracious) jaws.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Something new

After browsing (okay: I'll be honest, drooling) over Helen Dardik's watercolors like this one above, especially, I decided to try my hand again at watercolor.

Also, I know full well that my forsythia have not much time left in this world (don't tell them , please), so I'll need a replacement on my mantel--and I'd much rather make something or repurpose it than buy something. I'm a pincher that way. Here is what I made:

That nice little girl wants to share her sushi. Isn't she kind?

And who wouldn't want a whale for a balloon? Imagine how fun that would be.

And this poem by ee cummings always makes me feel warm and springy inside. This one's going over the mantel in the living room for sure. Not sure yet where the others will go.
But today, I've got my watercolors set out, happy music on pandora, and I'm ready to go. If only the boys will stop begging for an outing to the bookstore (jonah) and the toy store (jared). Maybe daddy can stop chopping wood long enough to take them...
PS: I know my pics are darkish and smallish. Working on my photographic techniques too. Drrgg.

Friday, April 9, 2010


Oh, you didn't know that World War I Europe looked like this? Really? Well, it does--in Scott Westerfeld's new novel, Leviathan. In his world, it all comes down to different divisions of science. Austria and Germany have spent the last 100 years or so perfecting mechaniks, the science of engines and machines. Their war machines can walk on two or four or six or even eight legs. They fire bombs and bullets and sometimes sticky phosphorus. They're called the Clankers.
The Darwinists, on the other hand, have taken Darwin's observations about species and run with them. He proposed that every living thing is comprised of life threads (like DNA) that, when unraveled, can be combined with the life threads of other living things. Genetic engineering, of course. So, the Darwinists have war machines like the one below, an ecosystem (really) that incorporates a giant airborne whale, some cilia to direct airflow, bats that poop metal darts, talking messenger lizards, and hawks that fly in formation with razor-wire nets to cut enemy planes to pieces. Simple science, if you think about it.

So, in this slightly altered world, there is still an assassination that sparks it all: the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife are murdered by Serbians (or maybe that's just a conspiracy; maybe the Germans killed them because they wanted to get the war started). Their son, Aleksandar, is whisked away to safety in a Cyclops Stormwalker by a few loyal friends. (Franz and Sophie didn't have a son named Alek, of course, and none of their children had to be whisked to safety. But this makes it all much more interesting.)

Meanwhile, a young girl named Deryn poses as a boy to join the British Air Service, and she's a natural--in the air, that is. It's a bit harder for her to nail the boy routine.

You've probably already figured out that Alek and Deryn are going to meet up somehow, and that's only because you're a barking genius. But I'm not going to tell you anything else. Like, I'm not going to tell you about the illustrations in each chapter and how glorious they are. I'm also not going to tell you about Alek's transformation from priveleged lordling to slightly-more-responsible almost-man. Or about Deryn's many, many adventures in the air. And certainly not about who Dr. Nora Barlow is related to. It's just too much to give away.

I'll just say that if you've been thinking about reading some steampunk, this is the book to break in with. It's fun, and funny, and a blast of an adventure. The only downfall is this: it's the first book and a series, and it just came out in October, so who knows how long we'll have to wait for more. But, you could always read it again when #2 comes out.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Why Teachers SHOULD Have Spring Break

Because sometimes, we make something beautiful.

(don't you love forsythia? these are from a bush in our backyard)
And sometimes, we bring the outside in.

Clint finished the mantel a few weeks ago and we painted the accent wall. it's called prussian blue. i really love it. also, there are two little chicks hanging out up there. see them?

And that makes everyone feel happy.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Why Teachers Should Not Have Spring Break

The best Viking warriors were called berserkers. Maybe it was the stress of battle, maybe those brightly colored mushrooms they found in the cold, dark forest. Whatever it was, those berserker warriors became killing machines. They didn't carry shields, they didn't wear armor (or clothes, actually), they just stormed into battle and began to slaughter people. And strangely, afterward, they didn't remember any of it.
Sometimes, I think I've got a bit of a Viking warrior complex. But just sometimes.
From September to June, I teach high school English and history. On a typical school day after I get home, I jog, make dinner, grade papers, do dishes and a bit of laundry, and then keep grading until bedtime. Also, I somehow squeeze in time to make cards and sew a little and stop in here at my blog. Also, shopping, of course, and baking. And snuggling with kiddos and husband.
(I am not making myself out to be a superhero, not even close. I'm just creating a point of comparison.)
If that weren't impressive (and insane?) enough, a few years ago, I got my MFA while teaching full time and growing a baby--and then taking care of said offspring.
In both cases, when I look back on my days and weeks and consider that my hours are routinely 60 minutes long and my days are 24 of those hours, I have no idea how I was so productive.
Because every inclination of my body leans toward laziness.
Case in point:
You would think that a girl like the one described above would do something breathtakingly industrious on her spring break. She would probably design (and sew) her summer wardrobe, while also making birthday cards for all the family birthdays in May and June (there are twenty, in case you're wondering) (she's thinking she'll make all the rest of the year's cards during summer vacation). She would also perfect bread making and finish writing the novel she started last summer. Not too much for this girl to tackle in the ten days she has free of school work.
That's what anyone would think.
But here is the strange thing (and it's not just limited to this particular girl; she has talked to at least ONE other teacher in a highly scientific, controlled chat over the phone): when she (okay, it's me--I'll stop using third person now. Too annoying) has so many days in a row with NOTHING URGENT TO DO, she reverts from near-superhero-hood to her natural state: lazy.
This is what I did today: (well actually, I went grocery shopping this morning. Does that count for something?) I drank some coffee, thought about going for a jog, gave the lizard some food, took a nap, and read nearly an entire book. Oh, and I also checked my email. That's it.
It's a plague, I'm telling you, a plague. Two teachers have already succumbed to its mind-numbing lethargy, and I fear if I (I mean, we) don't get back to school soon, it can only get worse. Much worse.