Thursday, February 28, 2013

Lunch out

Today the cleaning lady came.

I feel so weird saying that.  It was whilst I was trying to be a teacher that we started this.  I had come to the utmost end of my rope, and then we found that this wonderful woman, whom I had known for quite some time, actually cleans houses and had an opening.

The first time she cleaned was like the weight of the world lifted from my shoulders (and I know that is a cliche, but it is just so very like how it was).  She came on a Thursday, and when Saturday morning dawned, I needed to lesson plan for four classes, grade approximately 80 book reports, grocery shop, do seven loads of laundry, and try to track down everybody's schedules for the next week and get the information all loaded onto the family calendar... but I did not need to clean.  For the first time since I had begun teaching, I felt like I could take a breath.

Since then, I've quit trying to teach.  But now I have to sell my house, so I thought it might be prudent to keep on with the cleaning help.  It is a little bit easier to spend a day dragging out old boxes and going through them if you know somebody else will eventually come along behind you and vacuum up the dust... as well as get to the bathrooms you neglected while you had your nose in the old boxes.  I say this in theory because I have not done very much going through old boxes; some, not much.

We vacate while she is cleaning. This morning I went to a Bible study, and then I met up with Shawn who was at Panera trying to use their free wi-fi to get some work done.  We are still getting the hang of this working-from-home thing, but I think it is a blessing to have scheduled cleanings.  Otherwise I would probably simply never vacuum at all, because there is always the threat of a telephone call from a client.

Shawn had snagged a table in the back, by a window.  He'd picked up his birthday present gadget (not an iPad, a Google Nexus) while I was at the Bible study.  Now he had coffee; I had tea.  He had a sandwich; I had a bagel.  We sat, and Panera bustled, full of mostly little old people eating soup from bread bowls.  Beyond the window, sprigs of February-dead rosehips oscillated gently back and forth, beyond them a silver Honda Odyssey, beyond that the bright red sign proclaiming Price Chopper.  It was a retail sort of view.

We needed to stay until the cleaning was done, and there was so much I wanted to say that I could not say, perhaps because it was busy and crowded.  Sometimes when your heart is particularly full, your throat gets clogged and constipated with words.  Bible study had filled me with disjointed thoughts on the gospel, forgiveness, restoration, the need to do a thorough housecleaning across our personal relationships.  Speech shunned me.

We took turns leaving our post because he had set his billfold and his Nexus on the windowsill, and his laptop was plugged in on the table.  He got the food.  I fixed my tea.  He selected his free birthday pastry for dessert.  I threw away some trash, ran into a friend, refilled my tea.  He tried to open his Nexus and get it started up.  I underwent a sudden stomach cramp and felt the need to leave.  It was nearly time for our housecleaning to be done.  We packed up and drove our separate cars home.

When we got home, I wanted to write, because something about those brown, dried up rose hips begged to be remembered, something sad and hopeful, barren and refreshingly natural against a sea of asphalt paving and yellow parking lines.

So I sat down, and the phone rang.  It was the doctor.   This one, a rheumetologist with a specialization in auto-immune issues, says I have Lupus.  He has already called in a prescription to my pharmacy.  "Which pharmacy?" I asked.  He didn't know, but I should start taking this medicine right away and probably continue for the rest of my life, unless my stomach can't tolerate it.

My house is clean.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

10 points of minutia and a recipe

  1. Banana bread with Nutella is delicious.  I make really good banana bread (recipe below).
  2. Aldi has a very decent Nutella knock-off. 
  3. Schubert has had a yellow bandage on his left leg for a full week now, and he has not chewed it off, even though we have not been making him wear his cone.
  4. Hearing the sound of a bathroom fan running makes me feel cold.
  5. I have taken to washing my face with raw honey every night before bed.  This has been very good for my skin.  Also, it is fun.
  6. My husband and I both need new slippers; perhaps we will buy some today.
  7. The weather in New York may have some similarities to the weather in England.  Reading a Flavia de Luce book yesterday, I was struck by Bradley's description of the desaturated colors of winter outside Buckshaw as the snow fell wet and hard, exactly the way it was falling against my vinyl-sided house last night.
  8. I wish it were warm enough for widespread, wandering walks.  Cold gray days make my head ache and my muscles cramp. 
  9. Once I tried to whiten my teeth with activated charcoal; however, they turned orange.  Well, perhaps it was more of a pearly peach.  It was rather a pretty color if you were talking about flowers or fabric or nail polish, but it was not a nice color for teeth.
  10. My husband turned 49 on Monday.  It seems to me that Monday is rather an appropriate day for turning 49.  On Monday we had dinner at Olive Garden (their cappuccino maker was broken) and blueberry-apple pie at home. He received two cards and two neckties, not correlated.  On Tuesday he received two bags of Dunkin Donuts coffee and a DVD, and I prepared him a dinner of roast rib-eye, cheesy mash, nasty salad and asparagus.  Today, perhaps we will buy him slippers and an iPad.  Perhaps.

A character shot of my dearly beloved on the occasion of his 49th.
I think he is pretty fantastic.  I love his eyes in this picture.  
He is putting ice cream on everyone's pieces of birthday pie, 
trying to get just the amount that everyone wants, 
because he is very thoughtful that way.

The promised banana bread recipe:

Banana Bread

1 cup sugar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
3-4 very ripe bananas, peeled and mashed*
1/4 cup water (or less)
1 and 2/3 cup white flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350.  Grease the bottom of a large loaf pan.  Sift together flour, baking soda, salt and baking powder.  Set aside.  In a large bowl, combine sugar, oil, eggs and banana.  Mix well.  Add vanilla and nutmeg.  Mix some more.  Stir in the sifted flour mixture.  Add up to 1/4 cup water, if needed, to help the batter mix and come to the right consistency.  Pour into loaf pan, and bake for 70 minutes.  Test with a kebob skewer (or a toothpick) for doneness.

*My banana bread is the best I have ever had.  I think it may be because I use very, very old bananas.  I leave them on the counter until they are almost completely black, and then I put them into the refrigerator for a few more days.  As long as there is no mold on them, they are fair game.  When I peel them, the peels are stiff and the insides are very soft, dark and almost translucent.  They sometimes smell a trifle fermented.  Usually I have two bananas like this, from my refrigerator, and two that are spotty and past what people would want to peel and eat, but have not yet left the counter.  That's just the way it tends to work out here.  My boys are actually quite instrumental in helping me cultivate the right bananas for bread... because they look forward to it.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

house hunting

It is kind of hard to give up a dream.

I know it is God's will that life should go in the direction He ordains.  My husband has a job (for now... we will see what happens regarding sequestration).

We had that land, that beautiful, glorious land.  Ten acres of arable land that sloped gently back from the road to ten more acres of protected, wooded wetlands.  It was the perfect setting to build a beautiful walkout that faced west toward the sunset over the woods.  Autumn was a particularly wondrous time to drive out and look at this land, this land of ours, and dream about the house we would build on it.  We had actually bought both the lot and the view.  How many times in life do you get to do that?

I drew up floorplans full of my dreams, a vaulted ranch full of hardwoods and windows.  It had a lovely walk-out basement full of west-facing windows and plenty of room to keep our parents, should they ever need a place to stay, or our children, should they come to visit with their families.  And closets: pantries, coat closets, broom closets, and closets to store the dog-food and the rain boots.

The houses nowadays do not have closets.  It makes me want to cry.

In the midwestern city we are moving to, a smallish, college-townish sort of place, there are not many houses that float my boat.  Possibly not any.  I just looked at a plan of a house, new construction, that costs 64% more than what we probably will be able to get for our house here.  And it had no closets.  Well, there were bedroom closets, of course.  But there was no front closet, no back closet, and only one tiny linen closet upstairs, no linen closet to serve the master bathroom at all.

Seriously?  Seriously?  I've spent the past 24 years stressing about where to store my vacuum, but apparently in my next house, there might not even be anywhere to hang my coat.

At the same time, these stupid houses (yes, I am temperamental, and I will say stupid) all have frou-frou whirlpool garden tubs and separate showers with glass doors.  This frustrates me no end.  I do not like whirlpool tubs.  They always make me nauseated whenever I use them.  I suppose I run the water too hot and stay in too long, but really, isn't that the idea?   Anyway, I don't want one.

Also, I despise glass shower doors.  They are a bear to keep clean.  I've said it before and I'll say it again:  if your shower curtain liner gets nasty, you throw it out and buy a new one.  Five bucks.  Everything's cool.  If your glass shower doors get nasty (and they will, especially in that little metal track that the doors slide along), there is no such simple and cheap solution.  The angles you need to contort your body into to clean a glass shower door are too much for me at my age and with my back.  And the replacement cost is, well, not five bucks.

I was fussing about these ridiculous bathrooms, and I said, "If given the choice, I would so take a linen closet over a whirlpool tub.  Where are you supposed to keep your towels?"

"Why, people store their towels in their garden tubs, of course," David told me without missing a beat, "Since garden tubs make you nauseated if you use them."

We brainstormed a bunch of potential fixes.  "How about," David suggested, "You get one of those round curtain bars that hang from the ceiling and hang a shower curtain from that over your garden tub, converting it into a shower/bath?  Then you don't have to clean the glass shower doors.  And you could install shelves in the shower and store your towels in there."

All I'm going to say is this:  If I start looking at pictures of a house online, and the first picture they show me is the frou-frou garden tub, and that is the major selling point for the house, then I might as well x it off my list then and there.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Fear, pride and pain (ha! who would read this?)

Today is a bit of a tough day.  Schubert has a terrible gum infection, gingivitis, in fact.  It may sound funny, but if you saw how miserable he is, you would not laugh.

Today he is at the vet, undergoing anesthesia and a dental cleaning.  He is on an antibiotic.  He will not drink anything, so he is dehydrated.

He is in bad, bad shape.  Poor little guy.

I feel sick when I think about it.  And fearful.

To take my mind off things, I wrote a post about pride over on Seeking Wisdom, Craving Grace, a post which has been brewing in my mind for awhile now.

It is rather a painful day.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day

It's the little things.

I'm not kidding.

Every year on Valentine's Day and Mother's Day, I feel a little bit irate at how the shops jack up the prices of their flowers.  I have informed my husband that I do not enjoy flowers that cost three to five times what they would normally cost. Such flowers bring me no pleasure.  I say, "Get me a dozen roses on a random, unexpected day, when they are $12 a dozen at the grocery store.  This will earn you many, many points.  Do not get me flowers on a day when they are $30-$50 a dozen.  I will be mad."

The net effect of my having made this statement is that I receive flowers neither on random days, nor on days when they are prohibitively priced.  If I have fresh flowers, I generally buy them for myself, on sale.  This is not the end of the world, and I am happy to say that I have never been yelled at (or even criticized) for buying myself flowers.  There seems to be some sort of understanding that my husband and I share concerning these things.

However, today being Valentine's Day, a.k.a. The Day of the Rose, he pulled a creative stunt.  Knowing that I would not be pleased with a pricey bouquet, he went to the Dollar Store and bought me a $1 cluster of fake roses:

They are pretty cute.  And they did more than bring a smile to my face.  They made me laugh, hard, for a good long time.

Happy Valentine's Day to my valentine, and yours, and God bless us everyone.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Cleaning and packing

If there is anything I am not good at, it is cleaning and packing.

I assume that I was bad at teaching because I was in such a fog the entire time, I barely knew my name.  The worst of it was not being able to cook, or clean, or read my Bible, or blog, or go to the grocery store, or, essentially, do any of the things that were my former life.  On the bright side, I had plenty of students to talk to, and the drive time was a good opportunity for prayer (and believe me, I was in need of prayer).   I had some overwhelmingly intense mornings cruising down 481 with the radio off, watching the sunrise (one morning it was blood-red like a Victorian mystery behind the naked black tree branches), praying my heart out to God.

Being an introvert, I also found that teaching drained me.  Even when I arrived back home, exhausted, I could never just go to bed, not only because I had hours of grading and lesson planning in front of me, but also because I needed "down time" by myself to decompress.  It's a weird thing, being an introvert, because I like people.  I even get lonely when I never see people.  Still, constant contact absolutely drains me, and I need to be alone to gather my wits in the aftermath.  This is one more reason why I think that teaching probably is not for me.

But now I am trying to clean and pack, which is not any easier for me and may--in fact--be harder.

The last time we moved was 18 years ago.  I had a five-year-old, a four-year old, a two-year-old, and I was pregnant.  I killed that move.  Seriously.  In a good way.  Organization and efficiency were my hallmarks.  I went through everything in the house and purged.  I gave away pots, pans, dishes, bags and bags of baby clothes, our bikes, and my favorite heavy gray wool coat, among other things.

I miss that coat.  I've wished for it a number of times.   It was a classic.

I also lost my orthodontic retainer in that move (probably why I ended up having to get braces a few years ago).

Besides my retainer, I lost a gold necklace that Shawn had given me in 1985, after we had dated for six months.  The sweetest thing... best gift I ever got, possibly.  I was totally unaware that we had been dating for six months, so it came completely unexpected.  He smiled and pulled this tiny wrapped package out of nowhere, and I cluelessly opened it.  It was a gold heart, the outline of the heart, and there were three tiny leaves of Black Hills gold along one side of it, a pink, a green and a yellow.  The heart hung on a very delicate gold chain.  I loved that necklace.  We moved, and I never saw it again.

Perhaps this is part of my hang-up.  Perhaps I am afraid of losing things that are important to me.

When we moved from Minnesota to New York right after college, I lost a crystal bowl and the butter dish from my fine china, neither of which had ever even been used.

I don't like losing things.  It makes me sad.

Back at Christmastime, we were receiving a lot of Christmas cards and such, and along came my birthday card from my parents, with a birthday check in it.  I set it aside in a safe place so it wouldn't get lost in the piles of Christmas mail... and I never saw it again.  I had to call my parents and tell them, because I knew they would wonder why their check was never cashed, as it never will be.

Yes, I think I have a profound fear of the things I will put in safe places and never see again over the course of this move.  I also fear the things I will discard and later wish I had kept.  I have a real knack for keeping the wrong things and divesting myself of the other wrong things.

On a happier note, I was going through old insurance paperwork and found a check for $271.  This should be an encouragement.

Thursday, February 7, 2013


I expect that I ought to address the fact that I quit my job.

There are so many factors involved here, accompanied by so many issues which I cannot discuss on a public forum, that I am not sure if "ought to" really means "ought to."

I had thought that I might be a good teacher, that teaching might be "my thing."

It wasn't.

The students were great.  Mostly.  All except approximately two, and I will leave to your imagination just how figurative or literal I may be with that particular number.  Suffice it to say that the kids were mostly great, and a high point of my day, each class with a certain flavor of its own.  Study halls perhaps not so much, but even there, the vast majority of the students were respectful and pleasant. (Note: majority does not include everyone, and there are a few detentions that I should have handed out, which I didn't, and probably to the detriment of those who earned and did not receive them; but nobody is complaining, and one thing I learned in spades: it is best not to make waves.)

I like students who smile and expect the best, love them, in fact.  Miraculously, this was quite a lot of them.  I like students who stay awake, but even students who fall asleep do not bother me tremendously... except in that they hurt my feelings, because I try very hard to be interesting.  However, I know that my own offspring sleep through the occasional class, and I know that it can be very hard to get proper sleep at night when you are a budding young adult, so I tried to be patient with the occasional sleepers; the chronic sleepers, perhaps not so much.

I like students, and explaining literature to them, and I love finding out that somebody has learned something.

After I started, I realized that I knew basically nothing about grading. The computer grading system they had there, Renweb, terrified me, and was in no way a high point of my career.  After I gave a few tests and assignments, I noticed that the grading spread fell about as I would have predicted it would, so I took that as a note of affirmation and proceeded forward to the best of my ability.  My heart never stopped racing while I sat and entered grades and pushed the buttons to see how Renweb calculated them.  Each student felt like my own kid, and I silently cheered for the ones who did well and mourned for the ones who did not, unless they did poorly merely for lack of turning in work, at which I felt as frustrated and disappointed as if they had been of my own flesh and blood.  In brief, there was not much I liked about grading.  I did learn that it takes vastly less time to grade a perfect paper than to grade a terrible one, unless it is a totally blank test.  A totally blank test is even easier to grade than a perfect one, just less reassuring.

The worst part of teaching was the mean parents.  There were not a lot of mean parents.  Let me just say: it only takes one mean parent to ruin your day.  Or week.  Or month.  It only takes one nasty, irate, scathing message to make a teacher dread opening any ensuing parent emails.  My husband always told me that you catch more flies with honey, but now I know firsthand what that means.

We are moving to the Midwest.  Had I mentioned that?  I bring it up, because I was thinking of lesson planning.  Lesson planning was very hard for me, mainly because there was so much of it, and so much of the material was basically unfamiliar to me.  When I realized that I would never again be coming back to reuse the lesson plans I was agonizing over, the lesson plans that kept me up past midnight most nights of the week and forced me to completely desecrate the Sabbath on weekends, I realized that something had to give, especially since I also now need to sell a house, buy a house, pack a house and move a house, as well as orchestrate the graduation celebrations of both my sons this spring.  (And figure out what is wrong with my body, but that is a whole separate issue.)

Back in the day, I used to teach a Bible study.  It was a study for ladies, on Tuesdays, and we studied the Bible.  I worked all week to prepare for Tuesday morning... not constantly, of course, but daily.  On Tuesday morning, I went to church to teach.  My friend Sandra had arranged a refreshment schedule, and each week she appeared laden with fresh flowers and other various decorative items to bedeck the refreshment table which was soon spread with fruit, baked goods and egg casseroles, as well as coffee, tea and juice.  Ladies snacked and socialized, then we studied and prayed.  It was lovely.  Cumulatively, I did about 10% of it, and what I did was really the Lord working and not me, anyway.

Somehow, from that, some people got the idea that I would be a good teacher, and they told me that I would be a good teacher.

But I was not a good teacher.  Preparing all week to teach one lesson does not begin to translate to needing to be prepared to teach four lessons five days a week (that would be 20 lessons).  This second load was beyond my scope.  Add to that: I am familiar with the Bible,  I have read it a few times, and I've sat under great Bible teaching for years.  I was not familiar with the tenth grade curriculum of World Literature.  It may have been a good course, but it was not material I had ever studied. My background was English, not World Literature.  I had no idea what I was doing half of the time; maybe 90% of the time.

When I taught Bible study, if I came to something tough, I could be honest with my ladies and say, "I don't understand this," or, "This means that we need to have the mind of Christ, but I am not there yet.  I'm praying for wisdom and pleading with the Lord to help me grow in faith, but I am not there yet."  I could say those kinds of things to my ladies.  But you can't stand in front of a classroom of junior high students and say, "I have no idea what I am doing.  I just read this last night, and I am not sure that I understand it myself, and I have no idea what I am supposed to make you understand."  You just can't say that.  They'll eat you alive, and their parents probably will too.  It was hard for me to feel so dishonest every day.

One day near the end, in tenth grade, we were studying The Iliad, and we were looking at stock epithets, which are shorthand descriptions Homer uses for certain characters.  The students understood and were good-naturedly searching the text to find examples which I then listed on the chalkboard.  As I wrote yet another stock epithet on the list, the thought echoed in my mind, "I lived to be forty-seven years old and raised four children, one of whom is currently pursuing a PhD in chemistry at an ivy league university and another of whom will start medical school next year.  And I never knew what a stock epithet was until yesterday, and it never mattered..."

To my horror, I heard my voice say to the class, "And I certainly hope that you find a practical use for this someday..." and fortunately I stopped before I said, "Because I certainly never needed to know it."  I clamped my lips together and willed myself to think before I spoke again.

"Wow," said a boy sitting in the front row.  "At least you're honest.  All the rest of our teachers tell us that we'll never be able to buy groceries if we don't learn their stuff."   In that moment I loved that kid with a raw, motherly love that wanted to say, "Homer has nothing to do with whether you will be able to put food on your table as an adult."  I wanted to give him a big hug and sit down with him and explain the difference between what he really needs to know and what is entirely superfluous.

I failed as a teacher.

I am not there anymore, and I'm sure it is for the best for the school and the students.  Still, I wish I had not failed.  It was a very disappointing failure.  I'd wanted to be a good English teacher.

So now, instead, I fail daily at packing my house, because if there is anything I am worse at than pretending to know something about famous literature I never studied in college, it is making decisions about what to keep and what to throw away, and clearing out my house.

Today I came home from a fruitless three hour long doctor's appointment and made a berry-peach pie.  I hope that my husband will love me if I make pie, because making pie is one thing that I actually can do, even if I am really bad at most everything else, such as holding a job or keeping house.  Yes, at least I can make pie.  Perhaps they should call me Amelia Bedelia.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Psalm 147:3-4

He heals the brokenhearted
     and binds up their wounds.
He determines the number of the stars;
     He gives to all of them their names.
               ~Psalm 147:3-4 (ESV)

I read this yesterday, and I loved the juxtaposition.

God cares about us in an individual way, hearing our hearts' cries even when we do not know He is listening.  When our hearts break, He is there, never leaving us or forsaking us, binding us up, healing our souls even while they reverberate with pain that drowns His presence from our consciousness.

He knows my name.  He knows how many hairs are on my head, and that is a constantly declining number these days, but He can keep track.

Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered...
               ~Jesus (from Luke 12:7, ESV)

Amazingly, astonishingly, astoundingly, He also created and controls the entire cosmic universe, vastness so great that all we can do is try to come up with mathematical formulas to express the size of it symbolically.  We study and track the patterns of the stars, the very stars that He put in their spots, programmed and named.  He knows everything about them; He could give you a breakdown of the chemical formulas of their matter.  With all our tools, instruments, computers, calculations, we can only attempt to scratch the surface of understanding, and our hubbles crash and burn with all our efforts, humbling us and making us start over, slowly, again and again.  He watches us struggle, strive, begin to discover the works of His hands.

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
     The Lord is the everlasting God, 
          the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
     His understanding is unsearchable.
               ~Isaiah 40:28 (ESV)

It reminds me of one day, a number of summers ago.  Shawn and I had taken the kids to Lake Ontario for the nature, fresh air, exercise.  We hiked a trail along the shoreline, climbed on rocks and obsolete cement structures, grew hot under the sun and itchy from the weeds growing along the sides of the trail brushing us as we passed.

Shawn and the kids headed out onto a strange, greenish cement pier with their hands full of stones for skipping.

Feeling quiet, I distanced myself, perched on a large boulder at the edge of the water, removed my shoes and socks to cool my feet in the bath before me.

Refreshing water splashed my toes and dampened me.  I swiped my finger through droplets on the top of my foot and down to the rock where I drew a wet blot.  I breathed deep and looked out across the Great Lake, all the way to the horizon of the earth.  Where the water met the sky was very far away; it occurred to me that I would die in an attempt to swim there.  Yet, this water soaking and teasing the soles of my feet, touching me, was part of the same vast body.  I looked from the horizon to my wet toes and back again, and I thought, "This is like God.  He is near and He is far.  He is accessible, and He is beyond understanding."

The sun baked heat into the hair on the top of my head, and I felt as though the surface of the earth tipped a bit, although I'm sure it really did not.