January 31, 2006


Last Friday, in order to get some feedback from readers, I posted a poem that needed revision. Getting feedback was enormously helpful in getting me back into revision mode. When I took a few minutes to revise the poem on Saturday morning and posted the revision to the blog, some readers were surprised to see that the poem was in some ways more of a rough draft – that is worse in terms of language and imagery than the poem I had posted the day before.

That's the part of the revision process that drives my students crazy. Sometimes a student will give me what he thinks is a final draft of a paper, all polished and perfect, and I will ask him questions that make him rethink the concepts he is presenting. And that means he has to rip apart paragraphs of nicely worded sentences. "How come all this work is making my essay worse?" he will ask.

I explain to my students that revising written work can be like cleaning a room in your house. You empty the closet, yank stuff out from under the bed, pull things out of corners, and after about an hour of work, the room looks way worse than it did before you started. The trick is not to get discouraged, but recognize that a certain amount of chaos is a necessary part of the process. And you have to just work through the chaos, knowing that eventually everything will get sorted out and your room will look cleaner than when you started. The important thing is to persist and not quit right in the middle.

One time when I was explaining this in class, a young man sitting near the front of the room looked up with what seemed to be a revelation. "Oh, wow," he said. "This explains why my room is always a mess."


On Monday evenings I’ve been going to a meditation workshop facilitated by my friend Reiki Woman. Since Reiki Woman lives in a tiny apartment, we meet instead at the home of KidsDoctor, who has a big living room, a formal dining room, and then another big room that she calls a family room. The family room has big comfy furniture, dim lights, and a fireplace in the corner, and that is where we gather, a circle of twelve women plus KidsDoctor's teenage son.

We were talking about animals last night, and the role that animals play in native cultures. (Reiki Woman's partner is a native healer.) During the meditation, Reiki Woman asked us to picture a non-human animal. I was hoping that some kind of cool animal would leap into my head – a wolf, maybe, or an eagle, or perhaps a bear – but instead the first thing I pictured was a snake. Not a garter snake or a common water snake, but some kind of snake with a cool mottled pattern.

I have had dreams about snakes, nightmares often, my whole life. And of course, I see real life snakes on a fairly regular basis as well. The edges of the bookshelves in my office are littered with snakeskins I've picked up while canoeing in the marsh or hiking in the woods. I've never been particularly afraid of snakes in real life – there are no poisonous snakes where I live – but when I was a child, the snakes in my dreams used to terrify me. As I've gotten older, I've gotten better about accepting the snakes that appear in my life. I come to admire the way that snakes shed their skin, wriggling right out of it; I value that ability to grow and change and transform.

When it was my turn to talk about my meditation experience, I talked about my snake dreams and the snake in my meditation. Everyone in the room listened intently, their faces turned toward mine in the candlelight. I looked around the beautiful room and the cluster of women who had pulled their chairs closer to hear my stories. "Snakes in dreams and meditation always seem so real to me," I said, "that when I wake up or open my eyes, I look around for snakes. I mean, right now, I would not be surprised to find a snake in this room."

Three of the women exchanged a surprised glance. Then KidsDoctor spoke up. "Actually, there is a snake in this room."

Her teenage son nodded, "Yeah, I am supposed to be taking care of it."

Back in the corner, hidden behind a big leather chair, in an aquarium tucked below a heat lamp, a constrictor was curled up below a curving piece of bark. As I knelt down on the floor to gaze through the glass, the snake uncurled in a graceful move, moved her head toward me, and flicked out her tongue.

January 30, 2006

Mysterious lurker

About a week ago on a day when I was working at home, I was glancing at my sitemeter and I saw the address of Small Green College, where I teach. That could mean only one thing: a student had discovered my blog.

Even though I use a pseudonym to prevent students from finding the blog, I didn't get too panicky at the thought. I really like my students, and I think most of them could handle reading my blog. I fully expected, when I went to campus on Monday, for student to tell me that he or she had discovered my blog.

But no student spoke up.

Then I started to feel strange. Normally, when a student googles me and reads stuff of mine, she can't wait to tell me. It seemed funny that a student would discover a pseudonymous blog, know that it was me, and not say anything to me at all.

Then I noticed that the times seemed peculiar for a college student. What college student would look at my blog at 7:13 am? The thought that the lurker was someone OTHER than a student did freak me out a little. Was this someone from the administration? Another faculty member? What reason would they have for reading my blog?

The hits indicated that this was a person who had the same schedule as me. In fact, what was really creepy is that my blog stalker seemed often to be on at the exact same time as me. And the day that I went through my archives looking for something, opening a zillion pages, my blog stalker did the same thing.

Yeah. You guessed it. My new laptop, which is configured to use both the campus wireless and my home wireless, was sometimes giving out my campus information even when I was at home.

In other words, I am my own stalker.

January 29, 2006

Soft snow at last

For our fourth snowboarding lesson, we had – finally – soft snow instead of solid ice. What a difference! In the morning, Daughter and I took three runs with the instructor, and I am sure if there had been a talent scout at the mountain today, we would have been offered a spot on the Olympic team. Well, that is how it felt compared to our first lesson three weeks ago. We kept riding so close together that we almost collided a few times, but the falls did not hurt because they were onto soft snow. I even got off the chairlift without falling! I came home without any bruises! The best part, though, is that now that I've got the hang of snowboarding, I was able to pick up some speed, which made the whole thing more fun.

Conditions were pretty terrific in the morning, but while we were in the lodge eating lunch, the nice warm air got a little too nice and warm, and the snow turned to rain. Absolute pouring rain. Every person who walked in the door was drenched, the teenagers shaking water off the way dogs do after swimming.

The great thing about rain is that most people don't like it. And they go home. For the rest of the day, there were no lines at all at the chairlift. And I didn't mind boarding in the rain. I've always liked hiking and canoeing in the rain, and this was no different. I have to admit that Daughter and I felt a bit trapped to be sitting in a chairlift in a downpour – you just really can't move at all – but once we were down on the ground, practicing our turns in the soft snow, we were happy to be outside.

When we finally drove home through a rainy dusk, our car was so filled with wet clothing and wet hair and wet kids that the windows kept fogging up. My Beautiful Smart Wonderful Daughter and I kept congratulating ourselves on our success and soliciting comments from the rest of the kids, who had caught glimpses of us as they zoomed past. Once I was home, I stripped off the layers of wet clothing, changed into dry sweatpants, and settled down in front of the fire with the books I am teaching tomorrow.

January 28, 2006

Inside the ski lodge

On Saturdays, I take With-a-Why and some kids from his class to the ski center. And today, the third snowboarding class for them, we finally had some good conditions. Warm air and lots of soft snow. It was a gorgeous sunny day, and the view from the top was spectacular. I could look across a valley of cornfields to a mountain covered with bare trees, branches silhouetted against brilliant blue, an old farmhouse tucked into a curve halfway up.

The great conditions gave the kids confidence, and after the lesson, they took run after run, With-a-Why even hitting some of the jumps. I followed them on skis, and they kept yelling things like, "Look! I'm getting this!"

Through the deal the school made with the ski center, parents are allowed to ski for free as a chaperones. That's right, ski for free. The surprising thing is that so far I am the only parent to take advantage of this deal. All the other parents spend the whole day sitting in the lodge. I’ve spent three Saturdays in a row trying to make sense of this. Today, the conditions were so perfect that I thought I could convince some of the parents to give skiing a try. They said things like: "I'm too old." Since these parents are in their thirties – I am definitely the oldest one in the group – ridiculous statements like that cause me to roll my eyes.

Last week the ski center sponsored an exhibition, expert boarders and skiers who traveled here from all over the northeast, and for that show the center lifted their restriction on inverted aerials. Even from inside the lodge, we could see skiers and boarders flying off a huge pile of snow, high into the air, flipping upside down, and more often than not, wiping out dramatically. I loved watching the show and so did the kids, but I could see that it made some of the parents nervous.

I think that is the main problem. I know that some of these parents are afraid. They are afraid of getting hurt. They are afraid that their kids will get hurt. They don’t understand the appeal of the ski slope. And yet despite their fears, they listened when their kids begged for snowboard lessons and scraped together the hundred bucks for the six-week program. They drive their kids out to the ski center, they keep their fears hidden, and they give up their Saturday to spend it sitting in a crowded room filled with hard picnic tables, gangs of teenagers, and wet ski clothes.

These are parents are doing their best to give their kids something they never had. I have to say that I admire that.

Saturday Poetry Revision

Thanks to all who wrote comments and sent emails to give me feedback on the poem I posed yesterday. Here is the latest version, written just minutes ago. I think it's getting closer to what I need for the manuscript. I am heading to the ski slopes for the day but feel free to workshop my poem while I am gone.



Planks splinter the soles of teenagers
who escape jangling heat by climbing below piers
to sneak kisses that shift gritty hills.

She knew this.

She came at dawn, shivering,
through a ruffle of gulls, pigtails loosened by sleep.
How urgent that wet sand suck of toes.

Wooden beams stretched high above her head.
Shadows giggled across her face.
Waves rushed against ancient timbers.

How soft the mounds of sand that awakened as she wriggled
brown thighs brushed with glittering grains
below a bathing suit line of foam white.

How she trembled then
at warm breath of wind
at tickle of fingers

a riptide she could not escape.


January 27, 2006

Friday Poetry Blogging

One of my goals this semester is to revise a manuscript of poetry that I've been working on for years, with plans to send it out by May. I don’t have a big chunk of time to work on it – the biggest chunk of time I ever get in my life is the thirty minutes of quiet in the car or music studio or piano teacher's house while one of my kids takes a music lesson. The vast majority of my blog posts have been written during music lessons. But if I can write a blog post during a thirty minute music lesson, I figure I can work on a poem in the same amount of time.

So I am choosing poems from the manuscript to revise, looking especially at poems that have never been published, poems that have given me trouble, poems that I just can't seem to get right. Yesterday, I decided that I would blog one of these poems for Friday Poetry Blogging because that gave me a deadline. And I encourage readers to give me feedback if they would like to. Please don't feel you have to know anything about poetry to leave a comment. You can just tell me what parts you like and what parts you don't like. You can tell me simply, yes or no, keep the poem or cut it in favor of a better poem. You can tell me what you think the poem means. You can tell me if parts of the poem confused you. You don't have to worry about hurting my feelings – after all, I already told you that I am deliberately choosing poems I am not so sure about myself. And the manuscript is too long so I am going to have to cut some poems eventually.

If you want the context, the manuscript is filled with poems about the body, and this poem is from the section on adolescence.



rough grey planks splinter
the bare soles and greasy fingers
of teenagers who escape jangling heat
to climb below rotting piers
that smell of popcorn and cat piss

for sweaty kisses that shift gritty hills
for ocean waves that rush against ancient timbers

for shady mounds of pale ocean sand
that move as she wriggles
brown thighs brushed with glittering grains
below her bathing suit
line of foam white

for that deep-sea rhythm that awakens
a riptide she cannot escape


Edited to add: After the first 20 comments, I decided to update the draft of the poem after Bitty pointed out that the word "swoosh" has been co-opted by Nike. More substantial revisions will have to wait until I have more time.

January 26, 2006

Spam. Spam. Spam. Spam.

Lovely Spam! Wonderful Spam!

Despite the fact that I turned on the dreadfully annoying Weird Random Clump of Letters Verification, which is horribly inconvenient for someone like me whose eyes are aging so rapidly that all my peers are starting to look wonderful again, kind of like how aging actresses in old movies used to look, blurry and unwrinkled, when they were filmed with cheesecloth in front of the camera lens, despite the fact that I have to squint at the screen and type in peculiar random letter combinations to leave a comment on my own blog, I still sometimes get spam. I am talking, of course, not about the pink food made mostly of pig parts and sodium nitrite that is so loved by Vikings with horned helmets who frequent cafes, but those annoying comments that sound like sincere compliments but mostly just promote some kind of website where peculiar things are sold.

I am getting better at telling at a glance when the comment is spam. Often the spam is attached to something I posted months ago. You would think that having spam buried deep in my archives somewhere would not bother me, but it does. Every time, I feel this urgent need to root it out and delete it. I used to waste valuable minutes of my life looking for spam until Scrivener told me that when I get my comments emailed to me, the link on the email will take me to the very post that the comment is on. So now I can delete every single piece of spam within seconds. I love checking the box that says Remove forever. It's very satisfying.

Often the weird thing being sold is connected to my post in only the vaguest way. Like I mention that I live near a train track, and suddenly I get a comment pointing me to a website where I can get DVDs of people having sex on trains. Actually, any time I click on a link and see big naked breasts, that’s a clue that I’ve got spam. I used to think maybe someone was linking me to La Leche League, since I am an avid supporter of breastfeeding, but hey, I've learned a lot since I first began my blog. (Is it telling that when I do click on a link like that, I look at the breasts and think – oh, there’s a breastfeeding Mom who is engorged, hope she doesn't get mastitis? And damn, I ought to email her and tell her about Wacoal bras, because she is just popping out of that lame piece of lingerie.)

Today I got a comment that looked like spam, and I clicked the link to find the post, which turned out to be a photo of me belly dancing. Out of curiosity, I checked the link, wondering if perhaps it would take me to a place that sold hip scarves or zills. Instead, the site told me where I could go to get a tummy tuck. How rude.

The spam is getting personal.

January 25, 2006

Birthday Pie

The other night, Sweet Funny Extra observed, "Your household is so communal. It's like none of you own anything." He went on to explain what his life was like: a bedroom of his own, with his own bed, his own blankets, his own desk, his own clothes hanging in his own closet, his own stuff on his own shelves. He is amused by the way my boys will just grab any pair of mittens or hat, socks or scarf.

My daughter does have her own room, even though it's tiny. Well, it's sort of her own room. With-a-Why sleeps in her bed on school nights, mainly because he needs to go to sleep earlier than his two older brothers. And Blonde Niece uses her room when she is here on weekends. And I do store stuff in her closet even though she complains about it. And her room is the only place where I can set up the massage table if I want to do reiki or massage, since the room I share with Spouse has space for a bed and not much else.

My boys are used to sharing everything with each other and with our extras. And most of the time, they are fine with this method of living. I don't think any of my boys would even want his own room. My kids have always slept piled together like a litter of kittens.

But sometimes – every once in a while – it's nice for one of my boys to have something of his own. Something he does not have to share.

Every year on his birthday, my mother brings Shaggy Hair Boy a homemade apple pie, a special treat that he is not obligated to share with anyone. We all love my mother’s apple pies – she puts in just the right amount of sugar with the apples so that the taste will be both tart and sweet, and her crust is famous. And Shaggy Hair Boy delights each year in torturing us with his birthday pie.

He will cut a piece right before supper time, just when I am the hungriest, and eat it slowly, savoring each bite, sitting close enough to me on the couch that I can smell the apple and cinnamon. And when I am eating breakfast – some kind of stupid healthy cereal with soy milk – he'll sit down with a piece of pie and a steaming mug of cocoa. Sometimes he'll walk around the room with his plate just to be sure he has an audience before he even takes a bite.

This year we all tried to manipulate him into giving us some. "Can I just lick the crumbs from the plate?" I begged shamelessly. Boy in Black tried to play into his adolescent nature, "How about you give me a piece just to spite Mom?" But Shaggy Hair Boy did not budge. He ate the whole pie himself, one piece at a time, making each piece last as long as he could. Within 24 hours, it was gone.

I know how important it is for Shaggy Hair Boy to have something that is all his own. As he savored each bite of pie, he tossed his long curls in the casual manner of a cool fifteen-year-old, but the smile on his face – he has always been an expressive kid – showed how much he was enjoying this opportunity to gloat. Like him, I'm the third child born in my own family so I understand completely.

But I'm glad his birthday only comes once each year.

January 24, 2006

Anxiety Dream

Sometimes, I am trying to put my contact lenses in and they keep turning into these big square chunks of plastic that don't fit onto my eyes. Sometimes I need to make it across a room or yard, and long exotic snakes are uncurling everywhere, and I feel paralyzed. Sometimes I am on a bus or train heading for a death camp, and I want to scream but cannot find my voice. Sometimes I remember that I killed someone and the body is buried in a place that is sure to be discovered.

In my most common nightmare, I am suddenly back in high school, with a printed schedule of classes in my hand, completely lost and feeling totally panicked. I have a test somewhere, an important test, but I cannot find the room. Bells ring, the halls empty, and I cannot find my classroom. I am doomed to forever wander the halls of the high school, lost.

This particular dream has some basis in reality. The night before I began high school, I worried about how I would possibly find all the right classrooms in the brief time allowed between classes. The high school I went to was pretty big – more than 500 kids in my class alone – and the sprawling one-story building had poorly labeled rooms. And I have a terrible sense of direction. The thought of trying to negotiate the building filled me with panic. Blonde Sister, the oldest in the family, came to my rescue and drew me a map, explaining the way the wings were arranged around the auditorium.

My teenage children now attend the same high school that I did, the same sprawling building with linoleum tiles on the floor and rows of metal lockers. Two years ago, the school received some kind of funding and built all kinds of additions -- whole new gymnasiums, a couple wings full of new classrooms, a television studio, rooms filled with computers, offices for teachers. The building is suddenly the size of a small city, a maze of hallways that all look pretty much alike.

When we went to an open house at the high school last fall, we were given schedules of our kids' classes. We were supposed to follow the schedule to attend ten minute class sessions during which we got to see the teacher do a brief presentation. After each presentation, the bell would ring and we would move to the next classroom. I took Shaggy Hair's schedule, and Spouse took Boy in Black's schedule.

When I went to Shaggy Hair’s science class, it was in the same room that I’d taken biology in, with the same black tables and windows that looked out towards the parking lot. But then his next couple of classes were in the new wings, in poorly labeled classrooms, nowhere near the auditorium, which was my compass. I found the computer class okay, but his French class did not seem to exist. I wandered helplessly about the corridors, peering into classrooms filled with other parents who seemed to have somehow found their way. As panic began to set in, it was a familiar feeling. I was living my anxiety dream.

Just then I heard someone call my name. Blonde Sister, who was there to meet Blonde Niece’s teachers, came around the corner. "I can't find the French classroom," I told her. By now, I was feeling desperate about the situation. "I went to this school. How can I be getting lost?"

"I was there earlier," she said, "Here, I’ll show you."

So I made it to the classroom. With my sister's help.

And I have not had that anxiety dream since.

January 22, 2006

Mostly ice

Unusually warm weather this January has not led to prime conditions on the ski slopes. Mostly, I've been learning to snowboard on ice rather than snow, which means my body is covered now with bruises of every colour. Today was our third snowboard lesson, and Blue-eyed Instructor kept saying, "Look how great you are doing!" My daughter and I congratulated ourselves as we negotiated turns, hardly falling at all. We are both getting the hang of snowboarding, and the way it feels to carve across the slope. But the ice made each run somewhat terrifying. Even though I didn't fall very often, the falls that I did take – slamming my body against ice – really hurt.

By 3 pm, we had retreated to the lodge to eat a snack, compare bruises, and rest for a while. I know that ski lodges in movies have comfy furniture, and fireplaces, and hot tubs, and sometimes famous actors wearing tap shoes, but our ski lodge is nothing like that. The lodge is a big room filled with picnic tables piled with backpacks, coolers, brown paper bags, and wet clothing. You hardly ever see anyone burst spontaneously into song or tap dance across the floor. But sunlight does come in through the big windows, and the chaos of people constantly coming and going, peeling off clothes or putting them on again, makes it a friendly place.

Today the place was half empty because the bad conditions had kept many skiers and boarders home. I kept shifting around on the bench to get comfortable – after a few hard falls on the end of my spine, sitting on a hard bench was painful. Daughter was doing some work for her classes, and she entertained me by reading aloud bits of the book The Theory Toolbox by Nealon and Giroux. It felt good to rest my sore body and talk with my Wonderful Smart Beautiful Daughter. After the adrenaline rush of boarding down icy slopes and all the hard work of remembering how to position our bodies, it was nice to do something as simple as talk about theory.

"Read me some more," I said to her, "It feels great to be doing something we are good at."

January 21, 2006

Saturday evening potluck

The potluck this evening was at Quilt Artist’s home, an old house in the city with hardwood floors and deep window sills, a home filled with artwork and quilts, pottery and candles. I didn't cook anything for the potluck because I'd spent the day at the ski slope with With-a-Why, but I knew my friends would forgive me. I brought some beeswax candles made at the monastery and picked up some juice and grapes at the grocery store.

Many of my friends made sure to bring food I can eat: vegan chili, lentil stew, pasta with marinara sauce, bean soup, dairy-free bread. Crockpots filled with stews simmered on the kitchen counters, pots of soups simmered on the stove, and the dining room table was covered with platters of food. We all brought candles to augment Quilt Artist's supply, and little flames burned on every window sill, from every table, from every step on the old wooden staircase. After being cold and wet all day, it felt wonderful to relax in front of the fire on a comfy couch with a plateful of hot food.

We talked about kids and partners, books and politics, career plans and vacation ideas. We talked about the times we've gotten lost, the anxiety dreams we've had, and the things we do to prevent the winter blues. After several hours of conversation, I felt completely relaxed, ready to come home to a down quilt and a warm husband. Time to get a good night's sleep before getting up at 7 am to head to the ski slope again.

January 20, 2006

Friday Poetry Blogging

Recently, I’ve talked about how Fridays are going to be poetry day in my classroom this semester, and readers have suggested that Friday Poetry Blogging could be yet another Friday meme for this blogging community. (We just love Friday memes, don't we?) Mona has many times posted original poetry on Friday, Bitty has already jumped in with a Ray Carver poem, Sarah Sometimes says she thinks it’s a good idea, DaniGirl says she can be persuaded to play along, and Arete recently posted a poem by one of my favorite poets, Joy Harjo.

The idea is to post a poem you like -- or a poem you've written.

Today I am posting the poem I use on the first day of class. We read this poem and talk about what the poem says about community – and then talk about what kind of community we want in the classroom. Joy Harjo talks about the kind of community that forms around the kitchen table – I wonder sometimes what kind of community we are forming as we pull up to our computers and meet in cyberspace.


The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teeth at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.

Perhaps the world will end here at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

from The Woman Who Fell From The Sky
by Joy Harjo

January 19, 2006

Le monde devient plus petit

We decided it was time. Over the holidays, my siblings and I got together and bought my parents a computer. They are both in their seventies, and neither had ever used a computer. They resisted the idea because they don't like it when we spend money on them, but we gave them no choice. We didn’t want them to be the last people in the country to be online.

The learning curve was steep at first ("Click? What does that mean? Drag? What does that mean?"), but I gave them a few lessons and pretty soon, they were both using email and google. Several times, I've had to answer frantic phone calls ("The email program is just gone. I don't know where it went.") and drive to their house to straighten things out, but they both learn quickly, and now they are exchanging emails with friends who have moved to warmer places.

When my father figured out that he could email more than one person at once, he immediately began coming up with ideas of how to use this new technology. "How about if I sent all the grandchildren messages in Morse Code? Wouldn’t that be cool?" Then this week, he set up what he calls the French Roundtable, putting all family members who speak French on the email list and sending them instructions that we would all exchange emails written only in French. The designation speaks French is pretty loose. I'm on the list, for example, because I took two years of French over twenty years ago.

The funniest part of the French roundtable is that my father has never taken a French course – and does not really speak French at all. But he has always wanted to learn French because he thinks it's a beautiful musical language, and he has been trying to teach himself out of some old schoolbooks. He found a bookstore that carries the French newspaper Le Monde and will spend hours trying to read it. My family has always had the firm idea that you can learn anything, anything at all, from books. When my Dad wanted to learn how to sail, he took a book out of the public library, read it through, and then built a sailboat in his basement.

I have to admit that it's been fun to get emails from family members, whom I normally see in person or talk to on the telephone. And they are written in French, of course. Tonight, I was sitting on the couch with my laptop when an email chimed in from Shaggy Hair Boy, who was upstairs doing his homework. A response in French came from Blonde Niece, who was at her home, with her golden lab on her feet, doing her homework. Urban Sophisticate Sister, working late in her Manhattan office, sent a message, riffing off something Blonde Niece sent. Since I was talking to my daughter on the telephone, I knew that she was in her dorm room, reading these messages and laughing. Boy in Black paused from working on his English paper to send an answer to the French riddle that his grandfather posed early in the day. Urban Sophisticate came up with the same answer, but posted her message 45 seconds too late. Even a big city reporter can't beat Boy in Black to the punch.

Tonight, when my parents came home from the movie they’d gone to see, my mother called me on the telephone to tell me what she thought about the way the theater had been renovated. In the background, I could hear my father saying with excitement, "There’s been a flurry of activity on the French Roundtable." And even though they resisted the idea of the computer at first, I know that they are thrilled to be connected.

January 18, 2006

Semester begins

My campus office is in the library, right off the big room of tables filled with students doing work. Well, some of them are doing work, and some are just looking for ways to procrastinate. Whenever I am not in class or at a meeting, I can wander around the library and find students to talk to. This is much more fun than actually doing any work. In fourteen years of working in this office, I have never graded a single paper on campus. Not a single one.

Today I talked to three students who spent their Christmas break doing field work in Australia, who had all kinds of funny stories to tell. I talked to Black Curls about his plans for the student group he runs, and his frustrations that school work interferes with the community activism stuff that he loves to do. I talked to several students who work as snowboard instructors; they were eager to give me snowboarding tips and say encouraging things about my valiant attempts to learn the sport.

I brought my new work computer -- my first laptop -- out to show to some students who have the same computer. Smart Violinist went through the system preferences and showed me all kinds of cool things the computer could do. I couldn't get the wireless to work because academic computer had not assigned me a password yet, so Smart Sweet Republican Kid let me steal his identity for the day. Kid Who Goes Barefoot showed me the thing he finds most fascinating about an iBook: when you close it, the little latch automatically starts coming down just before the lid closes. We all spent time kneeling on the floor to look at this phenomenon.

The low point of the day was finding out that the registrar had put me in the dreadful classroom that has fluorescent lights and no windows. My architect students tell me that the room was originally designed as a torture chamber for someone who gets migraines. And the classroom doesn't have a clock in it either, which is horrible for someone like me who tends to always go over time. I told the students that they had permission to remind me when class was over, but we all got caught up in discussion and no one noticed the time until my next class started milling about outside the door.

Despite the dreadful classroom, it felt good to be back. My students were talkative and ready to engage the subject matter. Most of them are former students so I already knew their names. We talked about the way I designed the course, and most of them liked my plans. Or pretended to, anyhow. They loved the idea of poetry Fridays. Well, maybe they were just humoring me, but they promised that yes, they plan to stay home on Thursday nights and read poetry instead of going out drinking. Most of them had already bought the books for the course -- and seemed enthusiastic about what we would be reading -- and one woman had already read some of the selections. It's going to be a good semester.

January 17, 2006


I enjoy winter sports, I don't mind shoveling snow, and I love the way drifts of white make the world outside my window beautiful. But one thing makes my winters miserable: driving a car on icy roads. In this part of the country, no one can stay home when the weather is bad, or else we would all have to quit our jobs and hibernate. The weather is bad way too often. So on a night like tonight, when a freezing rain is making the roads treacherous, most of us just reduce our speed and go where we have to go anyhow.

I hate winter driving worse than most people – I get tense any time the roads aren’t perfectly dry. Partly this is because of a car accident I was in years ago, slamming into a guard rail after spinning out on black ice, but partly it is just my cautious nature. I have to force myself to go places in the winter. I am very quick to cancel and stay home if the weather is bad. Since I am an extrovert, staying home in the winter months contributes to my blue moods.

After being in a sulky, introspective mood all day today, I forced myself to go to my belly dancing class tonight, even though the roads were slick. I knew that music and dancing would change my mood. On the way, I congratulated myself for not being a wimp and staying home. As I pulled into the parking lot, I thought to myself that although I was tense from driving, an hour and a half of dancing would loosen me up.

I walked into the building, feeling relieved to be out from behind the wheel of the car there and hoping the salt trucks would get to the roads while I was dancing. The woman at the desk took a look at my outfit and said, "Sorry. Belly dancing class is cancelled tonight."

I just stared at her, disbelieving. She added, in explanation, in case I hadn't noticed, "The roads are bad."

January 16, 2006

Another Snowboarding Sunday

The weather here in Snowstorm region is as moody as I am. Last week, a warm spell melted all the accumulated snow, patches of ground showing everywhere. On our way to Hardwoods Ski Center on Saturday, we drove through thick fog, with farm houses, barns, and fence posts appearing and disappearing behind what seemed to be a white cloud hovering in the valleys. The day was so warm I barely needed mittens although the wind hitting our rain-soaked clothes chilled me through.

Temperatures dropped rapidly that afternoon, though, and by Sunday morning, our world was bitterly cold. As we drove to the Pine Woods Ski Center, the icy wind was blowing powdery snow, swirling it across the roads, fine white snow layered over the rows of golden and brown corn stalks in the fields. The parking lot was almost empty as we pulled into the ski center, but the staff was starting up the chair lift.

The ski and snowboard instructors did not even put up the usual signs for lessons, banners that tell you which class to join, because the wind would have ripped the poles out of the ground anyhow. Very few people showed up for lessons, and we just gathered in one clump on the icy ground, everyone so bundled up that it was impossible to recognize anyone if you didn't have his coat memorized.

To his credit, my favorite thirty-something snowboard instructor acted happy to see me, as if guiding me down a mountain covered with ice was exactly what he felt like doing. "I thought of you on Monday," he said, "I bet you were sore."

"Sore? I was in pain all week," I shouted through the thick layer of fleece that covered my face. He laughed.

I was actually feeling optimistic about this second snowboarding lesson. At home, standing in the warm living room, Boy in Black had talked me through the turns, and thanks to him, I understood the physics of snowboarding and how to get the snowboard to move in the direction I wanted it to go. Boy in Black had also figured out that my stance on the snowboard was wrong. Most people go down the hill with their left foot in front – and that is what the instructor had been teaching me. Boy in Black told me to try riding goofy, that is, with my right foot in the front.

And of course, Boy in Black was right. He is always right. Coming down the mountain with my right foot in front was much easier. (Apparently I am goofy. Who would have thought?) And getting my body to move the right way was possible because I had figured it out in my head. Blue-eyed Instructor was surprised – and probably relieved – that I could negotiate some of the turns. Unfortunately, the icy slope was not the best for learning, and I still took some pretty hard falls, but when Daughter, Instructor, and I made it to the bottom of the mountain, we were feeling triumphant.

"You did great," Blue-eyed Instructor said. He added, "I can’t imagine how sore your butt is going to be."

One of the things I like about bitterly cold days is that everyone comes in between runs to warm up, so that I get to talk to my kids and extras. We always sit at the same table – well, actually two picnic tables pushed together since we are a big group – so everyone knows where to find us. Neighbor Guy and I both bring coolers full of food and drink, which get shared with everyone, and we are constantly giving the kids money to buy French Fries, which we dip into hot sauce. Between runs, we pull off ice-covered fleece, drop our helmets and goggles onto the table, and grab bites of food.

SweetFunnyExtra came over to tell me he had watched me from the chair lift, and that I need to shift my weight more to my front leg. Dark Curly, an extra who works as a snowboard instructor now, gave me tips on how to maneuver my way out of the woods when I go off the trail. Blonde Niece was full of chatter as usual, her blonde hair swishing as she demonstrated a move to Skater Boy and Shaggy Hair. Beautiful Smart Wonderful Daughter talked about the run she took with Boy in Black, and what a good teacher he is. With-a-Why does not usually say anything when he comes in, just pulls off his helmet and gloves, his cheeks bright red and his long eyelashes crusted with ice, and reaches for some French Fries. He is several feet shorter than Boy in Black and all the other teenage boarders, but they treat him like part of the gang. And you can tell from the look in his big dark eyes that he just loves it.

By the end of the day, the lodge was pretty empty. Many skiers and snowboarders had left, frustrated by the icy slopes and the bitterly cold wind. Neighbor Guy and I began packing up our stuff and figuring out which kid would go in which vehicle, while the kids began gathering their gear. The day always ends with us waiting for Boy in Black and Older Neighbor Boy, the two friends who have been snowboarding together for six years. They take the first run of the day together when the chair lift starts running in the morning, and they are last two up the chair lift at the end of the day, just before the staff shuts it down. We all peered out the window to watch them come down, knowing that they would do a few show-off moves on this last run of the day, with their families watching. Daughter and I exchanged a smile as we watched. It's not the cool snowboarding moves we are noticing, but how adult Boy in Black has become – and what a nice young man he is.

Daughter and I were the first to get out to the car, both of us eager to get home to a warm fire. As we watched the kids carry their gear across the parking lot, we talked about how quickly the boys are growing up. Shaggy Hair, who knew we were watching him, pulled his helmet off so that his long curls were blowing in the wind, and strutted across the parking lot with his snowboard under his arm, giving us the corny smile of the cool snowboarding dude. We were both laughing as the kids climbed in and we started the drive home.

January 15, 2006

Sunday Evening Meme

Here’s a quick meme I got from Rana who got it from New Kid who got it from Seeking Solace who got it from Clare who got it from Bright Star who got it from Michelle who got it from Witchy who got it from Susan, who was the original source of the meme. She did it on Saturday morning, and by the time it got to me it was Sunday evening.

Hair: Long and hanging loose, all curly from the many times I snowboarded under the snow making machines today.

Wearing: Brown fleece pants and hoodie which feel wonderful because they are warm and dry.

Drinking: Weird red juice. That's what we call it: we just buy any generic brand of frozen fruit juice. It’s all the same, and we drink gallons of it.

Listening to: Fire crackling in the fireplace, Boy in Black and Skater Boy jamming on their guitars, and the voice of my Wonderful Smart Beautiful Daughter, who just got out of the shower and came downstairs in a towel to show me the bruises on her knees, saying, "It's a good thing snowboarding is not a summer sport."

Reading: Blogs to see what my blogging friends did all weekend while I was skiing and snowboarding.

January 14, 2006


The weather was so unseasonably warm today that I spent the morning skiing in the rain. It was my first time to this particular ski slope – it's not the place we go to every Sunday, but a smaller ski center about twenty miles from my house. Instead of pine trees, the woods are mixed hardwoods, and on a misty day like this, the view of the bare branches against the sky was eerie and beautiful.

I spent the day with a bunch of fifth-graders from my son With-a-Why's class who were learning to snowboard for the first time. In the morning, they took a class from a snowboard instructor, and I was free to ski through the mist and rain. In the afternoon, though, I had to return to my duties as chaperone. Their teacher took charge of the six kids who were learning to ski, leaving me with the fifth-graders who were learning to snowboard on the other side of the bunny hill. And suddenly, I found myself in the position of snowboard instructor. Anyone who read my post about snowboarding from last weekend will see the irony in this situation.

The funny thing is that I did fine as an instructor. I remembered everything the instructor told me last week and I just kept repeating that stuff to the kids, saying things like, "Remember to bend your knees!" Mostly, I kept telling them how great they were doing as they fell again and again. Perhaps I should not admit this, but I was relieved to see that most of the kids were not any better at snowboarding than I was. Of course, the conditions were pretty awful – the rain made the slope solid ice, and then late in the afternoon the temperatures dropped about twenty degrees. But the kids seemed to have fun anyhow.

Tomorrow I return to the Pine Woods Ski Slope for my second snowboarding lesson. I'm hoping we get some snow tonight so that I won't be boarding on solid ice. At any rate, it will be a relief to be the student and not the instructor.

January 13, 2006

Sailing with my Dad


The river we sail in the summer is a big river, wide and deep, big enough to act as a boundary between our country and our neighbors to the north. And the islands – more than a thousand of them – make our section of the river especially interesting. Some are mere chunks of grey rock, while others hold summer cottages and groves of trees. As we sail between islands, sometimes gliding through narrow channels, we see carefully tended flower gardens, picnic tables set out on rocky points, hammocks hanging from pine trees, paths leading up to cottages, and everywhere, boats tied to docks. Sometimes when the wind shifts, we take an unexpected tack and end up on a part of the river we haven't seen in years.

We don't get to choose what kind of sail we are going to have. The wind chooses for us. Some days it is a peaceful drifting, just ghosting about, a leisurely sail filled with quiet moments in the sun and lazy conversations. A strong, gusty wind makes for an exciting sail. If my Dad and I are alone, with no fearful passengers on board, we'll pull in the jib sheets, reef down the mainsail, and then point as close to the wind as we can. Some days I’ll stand on the edge of the boat, balancing myself by clinging to the wire shroud, moving my weight out over the water every time the boat heels.

One of my favorite sails takes us past an island that was set aside as a refuge, a breeding grounds, a sanctuary for great blue herons. The nests the herons build are big untidy nests, built high up on the branches of dead trees, their silhouettes looking like a picture from a Dr. Seuss book. The great blue herons tend to ignore the sailboat, accepting our presence on the river, and we can glide up close, getting a great view of the baby herons with their ridiculously long and awkward legs.

The noises of sailing are wonderful: the ripple of the canvas sail when you point too close to the wind, the gurgle of water against the hull, the swish that a thick bed of weeds will make as you glide over, the call of the osprey overhead. Sometimes we sail to a particular destination, usually an island that is great for swimming, but more often than not, we sail just for the chance to be gliding about on the water. We sail for hours and return in the end to the dock in the marsh where we started.

Learning to sail takes time and patience. Always, you must take into account the current and the wind. Sailboats don’t take many shortcuts. Sailing means tacking back and forth, adjusting your path to changes in the wind, getting to where you want to go in a manner so gradual that often by the time you get there you don’t remember why you came.

January 12, 2006

Back to work

I've been in vacation mode for weeks now, hanging around the house in fleece pants and a hoodie, watching DVDs on my daughter’s laptop, eating whenever I felt like it, and not even thinking about my job. But classes start again next week, so today I finally sat down to take a look at my syllabi and rearrange the reading schedule I plan to hand out next week.

On the last day of class last May, I asked my students what things they would change about each course. They had all kinds of ideas, which I wrote down on a yellow legal pad and stuck into my desk. I pulled it out today, reading through to see which changes I want to make to my courses. Just looking at it made me remember some of the students I had last spring: the biology student who kept talking about primate behavior, the young man who drove an ambulance on Thursday nights and always brought us exciting stories on Friday mornings, the woman who brought her guitar to class one day to play me Joni Mitchell songs, the architect student who taught us all about city planning, and the young military guy who is now over in Iraq.

In one of my literature courses last year, I used an anthology of prose, a book of non-fiction, and an anthology of poetry. I taught the books in what I thought was a logical order, which meant that the last third of the semester was devoted to poetry. My students told me that a whole month of poetry was more than their scientific minds could take – and that this year I ought to spread the poetry out, making every Friday poetry day. I'm willing to give it a try. So this semester, we will be talking about prose every Monday and Wednesday, and Friday will be poetry day. I am curious to see how that will work out.

I like seeing the next four months carefully planned out on paper. I've got a long weekend at the monastery planned for early March -- and later in March, the FourSeas Conference in Big Midwestern City with the Baseball Team that Always Loses. Getting out the books, rearranging the due dates, figuring out which texts to teach when, and looking through course materials always gets me excited again about teaching. One of the coolest things about my job is that I get to teach literature that I love. And it will be good to be on campus again. My office is just off the main room of the library, which means that I am always surrounded by motivated young people, talking, studying, and reading. I love that.

January 11, 2006

Getting naked

Whenever the bloggers I know start talking about blogger meet-ups, inevitably someone says, "Oh, and we have to include some skinny dipping."

Here's the problem with that.

Skinny dipping is not something you plan. Swimming is planned, bathing is planned, parties are planned, orgies are planned. But skinny dipping, by its very nature, is spontaneous.

It happens when you least expect it. Perhaps the day is warmer than you thought, maybe unexpected sun in early October. Maybe you are hiking with a friend along the edge of a lake, and you both are suddenly drawn to how clear the water is, how calm. You stare into the lake, noticing the colours, the reflection of the trees and sky. You lean closer to look into your own shadow, then lean into the shadow because it lets you see down below the surface.

Often you are alone with just one other person, someone you've been talking to, someone you feel close to. The kind of person you can talk to forever and also sit in silence with. You both look at the water and then each other, and you both know without words that it is going to happen. You feel comfortable stripping away your clothes, completing what many late night conversations have already started, and sliding into the water.

January 10, 2006

Family Resemblance

On Saturday, my friend Long Beautiful Hair turned fifty. Half a century! We celebrated at a country inn, where snow was falling onto pine trees outside and a fire burned in the fireplace inside. There was food, of course, and a band, and all kinds of crazy dancing. And it's good that the room was big because Long Beautiful Family is one of twelve kids.

Even though we’ve been friends for years, this was the first time I met Long Beautiful Hair's huge family. It was a bit disconcerting. The room was filled with women who sounded just like her or had her mannerisms, who danced like her or had her hair. She’s got a distinctive throaty voice that I would recognize anywhere, and it was startling to hear that voice coming from one of her sisters. And the way she shakes back her hair when she talks: her nieces do the same thing.

One time a friend who had the opportunity to be suddenly surrounded by my sisters and nieces said to me, "Really, it was kind of creepy. You all talk the same way, using your hands and swishing your hair." I thought of that Saturday night as I danced with Long Beautiful Hair's sisters and nieces, and watched bits of my friend reflected in their smiles, their laughs, and the way they moved.

January 09, 2006

Bonding through Boarding

"I think every part of my body hurts," I said to my daughter.

"Me, too," she said. We sat quietly for a moment. "Maybe not my stomach," she said. "Or my breasts. But everything else."

I had intended to ski yesterday. I've been downhill skiing for three years now and I am comfortable on skis. I had planned to go to the slopes and ski down gracefully, admiring the view, enjoying the gorgeous winter weather. I was going to take the digital camera to the terrain park to take shots of Boy in Black and Shaggy Hair Boy hitting some of the jumps. Instead I spent a large part of the day facedown in the snow – or lying on my back in the snow complaining how much my butt hurt.

It’s all my daughter's fault. She had the brilliant idea that I should try snowboarding. You are probably thinking, how sweet, her daughter must be a snowboarding enthusiast and she wanted to introduce her mother to a sport she loves.

But real story is that my Smart Wonderful Beautiful Daughter has never skied or snowboarded before. And this year, she promised her brothers she would come home from college six Sundays in a row during the season and learn to snowboard with them. It's really her last chance for this kind of family bonding, because next year at this time she will be spending a semester in Famous European City Where They Make a Big Deal Out of the Royal Family. And by next year, Boy in Black will be in college.

Somehow, Daughter convinced me that taking snowboard lessons together would be a wonderful mother/daughter bonding experience. She wasn't at all sure about her ability to snowboard and I guess she figured that if she was going to hurt herself on the slopes, she would take me down with her. Or perhaps she wanted someone in the class to look more foolish than she. A good strategy, it turns out.

I admit that it was really fun. Snowboarding is a different motion than skiing, more like surfing or skateboarding, a game of balance really. A new challenge for me, since I don’t skateboard or surf. But I'd been warned by everyone that that the very first day of snowboarding can be brutal, and they were right. The falls I took when I first learned to ski seem gentle now compared to the spectacular falls I yesterday. With both feet strapped to a board, the only way down is to slam your upper body against the icy slope.

The instructor warned me not to put out my arms to break my fall – a broken wrist is the most common snowboarding injury – and I managed not to do that. But every other body part was slammed against the ice repeatedly, including a dramatic face plant that today is making the entire inside of my head hurt. I would photoblog all the big bruises on my body except that I think it would make my blog look like a porn site.

And despite the pain, I did have a great day. Daughter and I both kept laughing as we fell awkwardly into the snow again and again. We managed to get the one snowboard instructor who is closer to my age than my Daughter's, and he was awfully good-natured, even though I knocked him over six or seven times, including a fairly dramatic fall that seemed to fluster him. He even met us after lunch to give us a second lesson, devoting his whole day pretty much to yanking me out of the woods every time I went off the groomed part of the trail, and patiently teaching me the turns over and over. And I got all kinds of encouragement from my sons, my niece, and my extras. Always there were teenagers yelling things at me as they raced by on snowboards or went by overhead on the chairlift. (Blue-eyed Instructor said to me, curiously, "Just how many kids do you have here? Seems like every teenager here knows you.")

Today I am moving slowly, my body stiff, my muscles sore, still discovering new bruises in places I never thought possible. But I remember those moments when I got the snowboard moving the way I wanted it to – how good that felt – and I am already looking forward to next weekend when I can get out onto the slopes again.

January 07, 2006


When I was growing up, I did my homework every night at the kitchen table, with my brother at my elbow and my sisters across from me, all of us chatting as we worked. In the first house I lived in with my husband, I used the top of the washing machine as a desk, putting a typewriter on top of it to work whenever I could get a free moment. Although the washing machine was not as convenient as the kitchen table, it was tall enough that toddlers could not reach anything on its top. Small children in the house meant lots of laundry (we had two kids in diapers so we were washing diapers every other day), so I had to clear my desk off several times each day, and the nearby shelves held both books and laundry detergent.

When I was designing our current house, I knew that it was time for me to finally have my own space. I planned the downstairs of the house as one open space, living room and kitchen combined, but then I tucked a small room into the northwest corner of the house, a room of my own.

My office is lined with bookshelves but the books don't all fit because I am always buying more. Every surface in the room is cluttered with rocks, seashells, and feathers. Sometimes on a windy day, I'll walk into my office to find feathers blowing all about, dancing from bookshelf to desk. The candles in my office are golden beeswax candles from the monastery.

Because the door to my office is right by the front door to the house, I often trip over snowboards and boots as I enter. When I am working in my office, I can look out the front window to watch the wind blowing snow about. I can see who might be coming up the driveway, or in the front door. If I turn to look out the door, I can see into the living space of our house, with Boy in Black's drum set and Shaggy Hair's orange tree in view.

I keep everything important in this room -- books, photographs, journals, camera, even my ski clothes. This room is where I write. It’s where I cry. It’s where I plan my life and make promises to myself. It's where I am when I talk to my friends by email. When I make a phone call, I sit on the floor and lean against the bookshelves, shutting the door to keep my family out. Because I never had my own space growing up – and not for the first fifteen years of my marriage either – having a room of my own still feels incredibly luxurious.

Note: Since all the cool bloggers are photoblogging their workspaces, I decided to do mine.

Here's the doorway to my office.


Looking west.


Towards the north.


Facing east.


Looking south.


January 06, 2006

The fours meme

This meme comes via Terminal Degree

Four jobs I’ve had:

Magician's Assistant: Yes, I've been sawed into three pieces. But I can’t say how it's done because I am sworn to secrecy.
Legal Secretary: In the days when secretaries used typewriters. And everything had to be typed in triplicate, using carbon paper. So every time, I made a mistake, I made it three times. Ugh. I was a high school kid with very little patience and I almost smashed the typewriter several times.
Computer Teacher: I taught programming. Yeah, that seems funny now.
Waitress: Everything I needed to know about sexual harassment and more.

Four movies I've seen more than once

The Wizard of Oz
Dirty Dancing
The Sound of Music
The Mirror has Two Faces

Four places I’ve lived

Well, mainly I’ve lived in the same place my whole life. I did go to college in a north country town that no one but Rob has ever heard of. And I spent a semester in London. Do either of those count?

I can’t even come up with four different houses I’ve lived in – it’s only been three: my parents’ house, the house I lived in for the first twelve years of my marriage, and my current home.

Four TV shows I’ve seen more than one episode of

Northern Exposure

Four places I've been on vacation

Camping in the sand dunes of Cape Hatteras
Rafting on the Colorado River
Camping at Acadia in Maine
Hiking the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia

Four blogs I visit daily

I can never do the part of a meme that asks me to single out blogs. I never tag anyone either. I don't like that part of playing games. When I was a kid, the gym teacher used to pick two kids to be captains of teams and let them choose kids until the class was divided up, and I always just felt so sorry for the kids who got chosen last. I still can remember the look on their faces, even though they would pretend they didn’t care. But it always happens, if you start choosing, someone will get left out and be last. I hate that. I know that people like to get tagged for memes, but I worry that people who don’t get tagged get left out.

You can imagine how much fun I am on hiring committees. I just hate the whole process.

Four Favorite Foods

Chocolate tofutti
Broccoli with garlic sauce over rice
Hot tomato dipping sauce with warm bread
Lentil stew

Four places I'd rather be

Walking the beach at Cape Hatteras
People-watching in a café in Paris
Hiking in Zion
White-water rafting someplace warm

The four CDs I listened to most recently

Blue Joni Mitchell
Peacemaker's Journey Joanne Shenandoah
Kind of Blue Miles Davis
Black Eyed Man Cowboy Junkies

Last four vehicles I’ve owned

All have been small Ford Taurus station wagons, none of them bought new. It's pretty much the only reasonably-sized vehicle I can ever find that has eight seatbelts (which I often need) – unless I moved up to a bigger vehicle like a van or an SUV, and I don't want to drive something that gets such bad gas mileage.

Things in my life that come in fours

I have four children.
I have four siblings.
I am 44 years old.
And I live in a place that has four seasons.

January 05, 2006

Spring Semester Meme

Ten things I don’t like about spring semester:

1. First of all, the name is misleading. There is nothing spring-like about the weather we get during spring semester. I will walk to class over snowbanks, across ice sprinkled with salt, and through piles of slush. We might get a few nice days at the end. Maybe.

2. It contains the month of February.

3. It is three times longer than fall semester. Well, okay, maybe it just seems longer.

4. Committee chairs who never got around to scheduling meetings in the fall make up for lost time by scheduling meetings every week.

5. Grading papers takes longer in cold weather. Seriously. Studies have proved this.

6. A fifteen minute drive to campus can take over an hour if the roads are really bad.

7. Second semester seniors.

8. Static cling.

9. Dry skin.

10. My feet will be cold until April.

Ten things to look forward to during spring semester:

1. I get to teach contemporary nature literature.

2. Most of my students will be former students who are take my courses because they want to and not because they have to.

3. Skiing every weekend.

4. The days keep getting longer and warmer.

5. I have a laptop computer now so I can work in front of the fire.

6. My March trip to the monastery.

7. Spring Break.

8. The FourSeas Conference in the Big Midwestern City that has the Baseball Team that Always Loses.

9. I get paid reread and teach some of my favorite books.

10. Spring Semester leads to summer.

January 04, 2006

Season begins

This week, we are trying on long underwear, searching for polypropylene socks, getting out helmets, and matching up gloves. We've attached the tags to our winter coats, and Boy in Black is getting his snowboard waxed. Every Sunday for the next couple of months, the kids and I will be heading to the ski slopes.

We are lucky to live within 25 miles of a good ski slope. Winters can be long here – it will be a months before I again feel sunshine against my bare legs – but spending at least one whole day outside in the fresh air every weekend does wonders for the winter blues. I am looking forward to all of it again – the crowded lodge filled with wet clothing, the bag lunches and french fries covered with hot sauce, the huddle of kids gathering for ski lessons near the bunny hill, the chairlift that lets me stare down at the half pipe to watch the coolest boarders do their stunts.

I love everything about skiing -- the speed, the movement, the way it feels to glide over the snow, the sensation of flying, the adrenaline in my blood making every moment on the slope exciting. Because I learned to downhill ski as an adult, I am terrified on the black diamond slopes – and I love that feeling. I still panic at the sound of ice rattling as a gang of teenage snowboarders – they travel in packs – races past me, carving their way down the slope, always at top speed, me staring at their coats to see if any of them are related to me. I look forward to the side trails that take me through the woods, narrow trails edged with pine trees, the snow fresh and white.

I'll be bringing my own four kids, as well as Blonde Niece and Skater Boy. Neighbor Guy will join us with Older Neighbor Boy, Philosophical Boy, and Neighbor Girl. Several of our other extras snowboard as well, getting rides with parents or friends. So every time I get going too fast and go flying head first into a foot of powder or slam my body down ungracefully on an icy slope, there is sure to be a teenage snowboarder nearby to cheer me on and tease me with sarcastic comments until I am forced to get back up again.

And of course, it always feels good to return home, soaked and chilled through, muscles aching from too many falls. On the ride home, I am always filled with relief that none of my kids got injured on a jump or rail. And by then, my whole self is anticipating a hot bath, dry clothes, and a crackling fire.

January 03, 2006

Modern Boy

On a cool summer day,a bunch of us in the family were hiking on a wooded parcel of land that belongs to my parents. Hiking with my extended family is really an aimless wandering, with no destination and no trails to follow. We stop often to rest on rocks covered with pine needles or thick beds of spongy moss, everyone sprawled on the ground while a toddler ties his sneaker for the hundredth time or a hungry baby gets breastfed. Boy in Black was just a little kid, and I remember that he was carrying a wooden stick that he kept using as some kind of weapon against an imaginary foe. My father and I were looking for a boundary marker we'd put on a tree years ago, but we wandered way off course and soon were pleasantly lost.

When the younger kids started acting tired, whining and begging to be carried, we decided it was time to head back in the direction of the vehicles we'd left parked on the road. We'd eaten the oranges we carried with us so it was time to go back to camp for lunch and perhaps a swim. My father and I were arguing about which direction we should take – he and I can argue about anything – when Boy in Black interrupted: "I know which way to go."

We looked at the kindergarten kid doubtfully, but he seemed confident. I shrugged and tucked the baby I was nursing into my sling, my father hoisted a toddler onto his back, and we set off following Boy in Black.

I couldn’t really make sense of his path. I would have followed the line of rock ledges, or gone along the edge of the pine forest. He cut straight through everything, ducking under tree limbs, practically crawling through bushes, walking straight through patches of poison ivy. Every once in a while, he would pause for just a moment, as if he were listening intently.

My father and I looked at each other in amazement. Boy in Black was heading in the right direction, taking us straight back to the road. We already knew the kid was smart – he could do math better than any kid his age – but could it be that he had some kind of super tracking sense? It was uncanny how confident he was, how sure of himself. We traipsed after him, an assorted group of adults, children, and babies, all following the little boy in the black t-shirt and black zip-off pants as he scrambled over rocks and through groves of trees.

By the time we reached the road, we had figured out his secret tracking method. He wasn’t using the sun, or the prevailing wind, or any sort of intuition. He was listening for the sound of the highway which ran parallel to the road our vehicles were parked on, following the faint buzz of traffic that hummed in the distance.

January 02, 2006


To dance more. To sing more.
To plunge my whole self into icy cold water whenever I have the chance.

To make more time for meditation, reiki, and massage.

To be more vulnerable.

To get better at saying I'm sorry.

To listen to my family, my friends. To listen to my body. To listen to the wind as it rushes through my woods.

To sleep naked no matter what the weather.

To rub cocoa butter onto scars.
To admire the curves of my body.
To stop being afraid of silence.

To walk confidently instead of on tiptoe. Even around family members.
To stop being hypersensitive so no one has to tiptoe around me.
To make vegan chocolate cake for myself.

To make more time for skiing and snowshoeing, sailing and canoeing, hiking and swimming. To sweat more, cry more, dream more.

To get muddy. To eat potato chips. To use duct tape in every way possible.
To swear more. To fight more. To play hooky whenever possible.

To speak up more often. To write more.
To remind my friends how important they are to me.

To get better at saying "I love you."
To get better at saying "Fuck off."

To keep growing even when it's painful. To clear away the clutter inside of me so that I have space for new experiences.

To take inventory of the CDs playing inside my head and smash the ones I don't like.

To stare into the fire or gaze out the window, and listen to myself breathe.

To be sillier. To nap more often. To laugh more.

To fill my life with good smells: crushed basil and minced garlic, melted chocolate and herbal tea, dead leaves and pine needles drying in the sun.

To take more chances.

To remind myself every day that some day I will die.

January 01, 2006


The most dramatic fireworks display I've ever seen took place in the little town of Greenwood, which is somewhere near my parents' camp but otherwise pretty much in the middle of nowhere. It was on a hot summer evening more than thirty years ago.

The occasion was the Firemen's Field Days. The fire department of the small town hosted some games for kids, a parade for one and all, and incredible quantities of cheap beer. We arrived at about dusk, our station wagon parking next to all the other cars in the hard-packed field. I was about ten at the time, still young enough to want toss a ping pong ball into a goldfish bowl to win a prize, but old enough to be aware that maybe there was something wrong with the teenager running the game, who was swaying back and forth, dropping pingpong balls everywhere, and repeatedly taking swigs from his plastic cup of beer.

Everyone in the town was drunk. Everyone. The drinking age at the time was eighteen, but pretty much every person over the age of twelve was sloshed. Music blared from speakers. Bright lights blinked over lines of prizes. Weaving their way between the ringtoss and fishing pond, men and women knocked into each other, talking, swearing, and clutching plastic cups of beer. The hardpacked dirt ground was covered with crushed cups and splotches of spilled beer.

The fireman in charge of the fireworks had some kind of torch, which he swung around uncertainly, until other men from the fire department joined him. The crowd cheered as big pinwheels of color lit up the sky. Then the screaming began as the drunk men started hurling fireworks at the crowd, at the games, and into the woods. The air filled with smoke and colour, the sounds of exploding everywhere. My mother screamed and grabbed my little sister, who was just a toddler, and as a family we ran, following my father down into a drainage ditch. My brother and I huddled together just below the haze of smoke.

The woods caught on fire. "Call the fire department!" One woman was screaming. Even as a child, I could see the irony in her words. Eventually some drunk men jumped onto a pumper, which had been part of the parade, and streams of water shot across the scene. Throughout this, the man with the torch was still gleefully lighting up fireworks, so bursts of color continued to careen across the sky, illuminating the faces of the crowd: children screaming, a woman in a black halter top running with a baby clutched to her hip, a young man cheering, a fistfight breaking out near the edge of the field, a bunch of people attempting to haul games out of harm's way, and others just standing around with bewildered smiles on their faces.

Every fireworks display since has seemed tame.